Three orphaned siblings are forced upon confirmed bachelor Donovan (Bill Bixby) in a nineteenth century boom town of Quake City, California. After an earthquake shakes the area, the children find a large gold nugget worth tens of thousands of dollars. But their newfound wealth is causing more problems than it's solving, so they agree to "give" the gold to two bumbling outlaws (Tim Conway and Don Knott's). But they only way they can get the gold is to steal it from the bank vault where it's being held for safe keeping.Written by
When Donovan loses his poker hand to the banker, he mentions "three deuces beats aces over eights". In poker, two pair (aces and eights) is sometimes called the Dead Man's Hand. According to legend, this was the poker hand held by Wild Bill Hickok when he was shot dead. See more »
Just before the bank blows up, Donovan and Dusty fall into the river embracing each other. A short time later, both arrive back in town to see what happened, and are now dry as a bone. See more »
"The Apple Dumpling Gang" is quite agreeable, providing a generous amount of laughs and excitement as it delivers the Disney formula to a T. Adapted from a novel by Jack M. Bickham, it stars TV legend Bill Bixby as Russel Donavan, a gambler and rogue who shuns responsibility. When he comes into possession of three orphaned kids, he at first tries mightily to dump them on someone else. But surprise, surprise. The scoundrel turns out to be a pretty good parental figure. But the true sparks fly when the kids themselves come into possession of some honest-to-God gold. And naturally, EVERYBODY in town wants to get their hands on that gold, including a notorious outlaw (Slim Pickens) and two incompetent former associates of his, played by top comedy actors Don Knotts and Tim Conway.
The script is brought to life with some real zest, and as usual for Disney, it's a decent example of some good, straightforward storytelling, spiced up with fine period recreation and solid action scenes. But as any fan of this classic can tell you, it's Knotts and Conway that really steal the show. Knotts is perennial flustered straight man to the REALLY dumb Conway, who's hysterical. And of course, their union was fruitful enough to spawn more Knotts-Conway vehicles, some made for Disney, some not.
But the rest of the cast is quite engaging, and full of familiar faces and top character actors & actresses. Susan Clark is feisty fun in a de-glamourized role as a stagecoach driver, and love interest for Donavan. Harry Morgan is great as always, playing the local sheriff / barber / justice of the peace. The three kids are played by the endearing Clay O'Brien (who became a real-life cowboy), Brad Savage, and Stacy Manning. A running joke has Manning constantly needing to run off to urinate. Also to be seen in this most welcome ensemble are David Wayne, John McGiver, Don Knight, Dennis Fimple, Iris Adrian, Fran Ryan, Bing Russell, and Jim Boles. Richard Farnsworth has an uncredited bit as a mover.
Rollicking entertainment, complete with a feel-good theme song.
Followed by a sequel four years later, with Knotts & Conway reprising their roles.
Seven out of 10.
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