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.
- Agony of the Feet: Amos gets a chest of gold dropped on his feet.
- 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.
- Berserk Button: Dusty and Donovan decide to get married on paper despite having no romantic interest - to illustrate the point, not only do they not kiss at the ceremony, they look awkward just shaking hands on the deal - so they can become guardians to the children. At one point he buys a large new bed for the kids, but she thinks it's for them to consummate their marriage on, and goes after him in the saloon with a fury, until he finally explains himself.
- 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
- Chinese Launderer: At one point, the kids accidentally wreck a Chinese laundry as part of their penchant for getting in trouble.
- Con Men Hate Guns: When Mr. Donovan is forced to fight, he prefers to use his fists.
- The Ditz: Both Amos and Theodore.
- Driving a Desk: Any time the characters are in a vehicle, and looking especially fake in the scene with the runaway mine car
- Dumb IS Good: Amos and Theodore really want to be bad guys/criminals, but their kindness and/or stupidity always trips them up.
- Embarrassing First Name: Dusty's first name is actually Magnolia. Dusty appears to be her real middle name, though.
- Exact Words: (Dusty is chasing after Donovan in the saloon, throwing things at him and screaming at him)Donovan: "Let me say one word"Dusty: "One word."Donovan: "Dusty, -"Dusty: "That's it!" (ass-kicking commences)
- Fiery Redhead: Dusty.
- Foreign-Language Tirade: The Giant Mook rants in Spanish during the climactic fight.
- Girliness Upgrade: Dusty gets one at the end, played as a She Cleans Up Nicely moment.
- 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").
- Heartwarming Orphan: Three of 'em. It's a Disney movie, after all.
- Hostage Situation: Celia gets taken by the Big Bad in order to prevent anyone from following him.
- Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: If the concluding gun fight is any indication, it was attended by both the good guys and the bad guys. In the end, Everybody Lives and the bad guys go to jail.
- Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Amos and Theodore come off as this. They're criminals but they're so pathetic it's hard not to feel sorry for them.
- 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?
- Literal-Minded: At one point theodore tells Amos "Don't do anything to attract attention." Which Amos so literally interprets that he doesn't even point out when Theordore's pants catch fire from a match that was meant to lite a cigarette.Sheriff McCoy: "Your rear end's on fire, Theodore."Theodore: "Ah, thank you ... OW! OW! ... Why didn't you tell me my rear end was on fire?!"Amos: "Well, you told me not to do anything that would attract attention."
- MacGuffin: After it's found, the gold nugget quickly becomes one. Many related tropes:
- Accidentally Broke the MacGuffin: Accidentally dynamited by (naturally) Amos and Theodore
- Living MacGuffin: In a certain sense, the kids themselves become MacGuffins once it's established that adopting them provides access to the gold
- MacGuffin Melee: The film's climax
- Mineral MacGuffin: It's a gold nugget
- No MacGuffin, No Winner: No one gets the gold, except for tiny pieces of it picked up by the people in the street
- Marriage Before Romance: Donovan and Dusty.
- Professional Gambler: Donovan.
- Rollercoaster Mine: It isn't actually in the mine, but there is a bit with the characters in an out-of-control mine car.
- Running Gag:
- When Amos and Theodore try to do anything illegal, their plans always fail.
- Celia having a Potty Emergency.
- 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.
- Also, Amos: "500? Why, that'd be 200 apiece!"
- The Lad-ette: Dusty, who can kick the ass of most men in town. At one point she even calls herself a gentleman.