When I first got Disney +, I began scrolling through its offerings. It was like having a new toy. As a kid, when I got something new I would explore all of its intricacies before it settled into my repertoire of items with which I played. Most often, they were Legos, and though I kept the original sets built for a time, after a while I would take them apart and rebuild the pieces into whatever my imagination fancied. Usually that was space ships, with Star Wars as my inspiration. Getting back to my initial examination of Disney +’s titles, I found a film that I had not seen or thought about since my days of disassembling and reassembling Lego sets: The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975). It was one of those films that Disney put on often to fill the time when their new cable television channel was still young. I do not know why, but for some reason it was one that my sister and I always wanted to watch when we were little. Was it the goofy title? Don Knotts? Whatever the case, I remember looking forward to it as a child. Watching it as an adult is a little painful.
Newcomer to Quake City, Russel Donovan (Bill Bixby) strolls into town with the opening shots of The Apple Dumpling Gang. Looking to be well-to-do, he garners the attention of two bungling criminals: Theodore Ogelvie (Don Knotts) and Amos Tucker (Tim Conway). Their botched stick-up of Russel falls apart with Theodore’s aging pistol, and Russel calmly walks past on his way to a saloon while the would-be robbers look on sheepishly. The next to arrive in town are the Bradley siblings, brought there by a coach driven by Magnolia “Dusty” Clydesdale (Susan Clark). The Bradley children have come west when their parents died, and their next of kin, John Wintle (Don Knight), is supposed to take them into his care. Instead, John befriends Russel in the saloon the evening before they are to get into town, telling the card sharp Russel to accept a package for him in the morning before absconding to San Francisco. That delivery is, of course, the Bradley children. Since there is nobody around willing to take them in, the town sheriff/judge/lawyer/barber/dentist/a few other odd jobs (it is that kind of town), Homer McCoy (Harry Morgan), gives custody to Russel. Russel is fixed on leaving for New Orleans, but when his attempt to foist the children off to somebody else in town proves unsuccessful, he is forced to stay put and provide for them for the time being. The children, though, claim that they are not without means. One item that has come west with them is a deed to an abandoned gold mine. Yet, every time one of them mentions its existence, Russel shoots down their fancies of riches by telling them there is nothing to find in it. Still, they are insistent on exploring its subterranean confines. In the midst of their search, an earthquake breaks out (hence the name of the nearby town) that reveals a giant lump of gold and diamonds. The find means the children are rich, and now everyone wants a piece of them. Russel, though still intent on making his way to New Orleans, nevertheless wants to make sure that the Bradley bunch is set up and not taken advantage of for their newfound wealth. In this manner, he proposes to marry Dusty for the sole legal purpose of starting a trust for the children. In the meantime, nobody has forgotten about the mass of rare metals and gems sitting in the bank, particularly Theodore and Amos. Their slap-sticky attempts to take it all end in failure. However, they are not the only lawbreakers with knowledge of what is in the bank. Their former gang, led by Frank Stillwell (Slim Pickens), rides into town to rob the bank and take the rock for themselves. In the resulting gun fight, Theodore and Amos decide that the children are worth fighting for and switch sides. It also helps that the youngest, Celia (Stacy Manning), takes a liking to them. They are not much help, and the final showdown happens between Frank and Russel as the latter attempts to stop the former. He does so, and decides to stay on with Dusty and the children, starting a life nearby with Theodore and Amos as part of their new family.
There is nothing remarkable about The Apple Dumpling Gang. I am not even sure kids today would find anything entertaining about it. I am not sure why people back in the day thought it was any good, except for maybe the slapstick humor of Don Knotts and Tim Conway. Their pictures are all over the promotional material, even though they are not the focus of the film. Nothing they do is taken seriously, even a death sentence. When their first attempt to steal the mine find from the bank ends with them tied up of their own fruition, Homer tells them they will hang for their crimes but does not put them in jail. Instead, he tells them to show up for their hanging, as if anyone would willingly do so. And yet they stick around town, just one example of many of their ineptitude. That is basically the humor for you. What I believe was supposed to entertain young ones seeing this movie were the antics of the Bradleys and how they got away with them. For grown-ups, maybe it was how Russel grew to care for the children? I will confess to admiring his Christian duty to provide for those in need, especially orphaned ones. He sticks by them for the right reasons, too. When the precious metals and gems were found, there was a resulting court case to settle who would get custody of the Bradley kids. Homer is about to grant it to Russel, despite his objections, when John suddenly appears, lured by the promise of riches. He goes away when the bank blows up during Stillwell’s attempted robbery, thinking the children now penniless. Through it all, Russel stands by the kids. Jesus demonstrated true love by accepting His disciples in good times and bad. He took them back even when all had abandoned him during His Passion. They were His brothers, even though not of flesh. But through God the Father, we are all adopted into His family. It is not the perfect analogy for this movie, but it never hurts to be reminded of this fact.
If it had been a while, like me, since you have seen The Apple Dumpling Gang, then perhaps this review will save you the trouble of revisiting it. I am not sure what audience would be entertained by it, but it is innocuous enough for the whole family. The one sad part is the Western stereotypes prevalent in this fictitious Old West town, particularly the Chinese laundry. If you can look past that, it is on Disney + if you care to watch it.