The Apple Dumpling Gang is a 1971 novel written by Jack Bickham. A film adaptation was produced by Disney in 1975, and was followed by a sequel, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, in 1979. The initial movie is noteworthy for being the most commercially successful Disney film of the 1970s.The story of the novel and movie follows a group of orphaned children during the California gold rush. They encounter Russell Donovan (played in the film by Bill Bixby), a gambler who reluctantly helps them, as well as Theodore (Don Knotts) and Amos (Tim Conway), a pair of hapless robbers who are after the gold the children have found. Dusty (Susan Clark), the female stagecoach driver, is persuaded to marry the gambler who is currently taking care of them in an attempt to keep the children off the streets and away from those who would take their gold from them. Meanwhile, Amos and Theodore's former boss (Slim Pickens) also tries to steal the gold and ends up kidnapping the children.Conway and Knotts play the leads in the sequel, in which Bixby and the rest of the original cast don't appear (save for Harry Morgan, who returns as a different character).
Tropes associated with the movie:
- Affectionate Parody: Towards Westerns.
- Bandito: This being the characterization of the only Hispanic in the cast.
- Bank Robbery: Ironically, Amos and Theodore, the men who tried to rob the bank first, become bystanders to the successful heist.
- Chekhov's Skill: Clovis delivers a summary shin-kick to anyone who touches him. When the Stillwell gang attempts to kidnap the kids, Clovis takes umbrage to being grabbed and kicks Stillwell in his injured leg, making him let go.
- Children Are Innocent
- Con Men Hate Guns: When Mr. Donovan is forced to fight, he prefers to use his fists.
- The Ditz: Both Amos and Theodore.
- Dumb IS Good: Amos and Theodore really want to be bad guys/criminals, but their kindness (and stupidity) always trips them up.
- Gold Fever: At first nobody wants the children, that all changes when it's discovered that they are the sole owners of the huge gold chunk. It's actually rather disgusting to watch all the town's people trying to take advantage of them.
- Ham-to-Ham Combat: Yes, it's Don Knotts and Tim Conway together as a comic team. Hilarity Ensues and devours all the scenery in sight.
- Hates Being Touched: Clovis, to the point that he's a Phrase Catcher ("Clovis don't like to be touched").
- Hostage Situation: Celia gets taken by the Big Bad in order to prevent anyone from following him.
- Insane Troll Logic: How the kids convince Amos and Theodore into taking the gold for themselves.
- Literal Metaphor: Theodore and Amos scouting out the bank, plotting to steal the gold:Theodore: It's a piece of cake.
Amos: You mean it ain't gold?
- Marriage Before Romance: Donovan and Dusty.
- Professional Gambler: Donovan.
- Running Gag: When Amos and Theodore try to do anything illegal, their plans always fail.
- Stupid Crooks: The two robbers Amos and Theodore, who are after the gold the children found certainly count, with Don Knotts and Tim Conway as the robbers in the Film of the Book. How dumb are they? They were once captured by a lawman who took pity on them and told them he couldn't hang them because he didn't have any rope, but if they came back tomorrow with some rope he'd take care of it. After they leave, the sheriff tells his deputy that if they're dumb enough to come back with a rope, he'll hang them for being Too Dumb to Live. The only reason they didn't come back to be hung was because they couldn't find any rope.