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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.

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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:

  • Accidental Pervert: When a newly-wed Dusty learns that her "husband" had purchased a large bed, she jumps to the conclusion that it was for them to consummate their marriage. The truth is that he had actually bought it for the kids.
  • Action Girl: Dusty is one of the best horseback riders and pistol shots in the movie and doesn't hesitate to ride after the outlaws to rescue their prisoners.
  • Adapted Out: Two of the Bradley children, a teenaged girl and a three-year-old girl, are exclusive to the novel.
  • Adorably Precocious Child: All of the Bradley kids, but especially little Celia.
  • Affectionate Parody: Towards Westerns.
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  • Agony of the Feet: Amos gets a chest of gold dropped on his feet.
  • Bandito: 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 manages to explain 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.
    • Partially averted, in that he does carry a holdout (a derringer,) and is perfectly willing to produce it if he believes he is being mugged, waylaid, bushwhacked, or otherwise threatened.
  • Defrosting Ice King: At first, Donovan is less than enthusiastic for having to take care of the Bradley children, but eventually grows attached to them and decides to become their legal guardian by the end of the film.
  • 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.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Theodore and Amos menacingly emerge from the shadows to rob Donovan. Then Theodore's gun falls apart in his hands, Amos merely tosses his rope into the air when he tries to lasso Donovan, and Donovan keeps riding along without even noticing their presence. That scene immediately establishes the two as unlucky harmless villains.
  • 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 resumes)
  • Fiery Redhead: Dusty. You do not want to be around her when she's angry.
  • 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: Nobody wants the children until 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. It leads to a the first Papa Wolf moment with Donovan fending off the hecklers and tending to the frightened Celia.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: Donovan and Stillwell have a drawn-out, well-choreographed fight on top of a runaway fire wagon, even after it falls into the river.
  • 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.
  • Happily Adopted: The children end up becoming attached to Donovan and Dusty, who, in turn, decide to legally adopt them.
  • Hates Being Touched: Clovis Bradley, to the point that he's a Phrase Catcher ("Clovis don't like to be touched"). Anytime someone does touch him, he responds by kicking them in the shin.
    Donovan: (Nursing a freshly-bruised shin) Don't he?
  • Heartwarming Orphan: Three of 'em. It's a Disney movie, after all.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Amos and Theodore. At the end of the movie, they're fully reformed and join Donovan, Dusty and the Bradley children to their farm in New Orleans as Ranch Hands. Then again, given how ineffective they were as criminals and how they were generally decent guys to begin with, they were never really much of a Heel anyway.
  • 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.
  • In Vino Veritas: Dusty's father gets drunk and confides the plans to move the gold to a band of outlaws.
  • 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.
  • Inspector Javert: In the sequel, Marshal Wooly Bill Hitchcock relentlessly pursues Amos and Theodore for a bank robbery they didn't commit and is blinded by a desire to avenge the injuries and humiliations that the duo accidentally inflict on him. At one point, he reads off a list of charges against them, sentences them to death (declaring they've forfeited the right to an actual trial) and tries to gun them down.
  • The Lad-ette: Dusty, who can kick the ass of most men in town. At one point she even calls herself a gentleman.
  • 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 Theodore's pants catch fire from a match that was meant to light 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:
  • Marriage Before Romance: Donovan and Dusty.
  • Might as Well Not Be in Prison at All: In the sequel, several prison inmates use a series of natural tunnels below their cells to make a Luxury Prison Suite and commit robberies while having a perfect alibi.
    Theodore: Are you gentlemen prisoners?
    Big Mac: When we feel like it.
  • No One Sees the Boss: In the sequel, Big Mac is the unofficial boss of Bridger Military Prison and never comes out to the exercise yard.
  • Only Sane Man: The local sheriff, a stern, competent gunfighter, who loans a voice of reason to everything and is one of the only people immune to the Gold Fever, which seems to disgust him.
  • Papa Wolf: Donovan starts to become very protective over the Bradley children over the course of the film, especially towards Celia. When Stillwell kidnaps her, Donovan doesn't hesitate to chase after him, leading to an epic fist fight aboard a coach wagon going down a river.
  • Platonic Co-Parenting: The whole reason Donovan suggests that he and Dusty get married is so they can do this for the three kids.
  • Professional Gambler: Donovan is a sophisticated, traveling gambler who is unhappy at being forced to stay in town to take care of several kids. Interestingly, despite Donovan's skill at cards, the local bank president is an even better card player and beats Donovan on multiple occasions. The two develop a fairly Friendly Rivalry.
  • Related Differently in the Adaptation: John Wintle, the ne'er-do-well who ducks out on taking care of the kids, is their father in the book and became their legal guardian when their mother died. In the film, he's their uncle and became their guardian when both of their parents died.
  • 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.
    • Clovis kicking anyone who lays a hand on him.
  • 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? Consider that Don Knotts plays the smart one. 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 the banker 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!"
  • Undercover Cop Reveal: In the sequel, two Red Herring characters, Private Reid and a trapper who visits Fort Concho are revealed to be undercover Army Intelligence agents when they meet to exchange notes.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: In the sequel, Reid gets a scene chopping wood with no shirt on, and does a bit of flirting with the The General's Daughter in the process.
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