The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975)

apple dumplin gang poster 1975 movie
6.0 Overall Score
Story: 5/10
Acting: 6/10
Visuals: 6/10

Gateway western for younger kids

Story is all over the place, dull points

Movie Info

Movie Name: The Apple Dumpling Gang

Studio: Walt Disney Pictures

Genre(s): Western/Comedy/Family

Release Date(s): July 24, 1975

MPAA Rating: G

apple dumpling gang bill bixby harry morgan

Instant family!

Bachelor gambler Russell Donovan (Bill Bixby) finds himself saddled with a problem…or three. When he agrees to pick up a package for Jonathan Whintle (Don Knight), he finds the package is orphaned children Bobby (Clay O’Brien), Clovis (Brad Savage), and Celia (Stacy Manning) on the stagecoach driven by Magnolia “Dusty” Clydesdale (Susan Clark). Bound by his word by the town sheriff, barber, judge, and Justice of the Peace Homer McCoy (Harry Morgan), Donovan finds he might be obligated to take care of children or find someone who will. When the children discover they might be wealthy, they become the target of people from the town which includes bumbling thieves Amos Tucker (Tim Conway) and Theodore Ogelvie (Don Knotts). Will the “Apple Dumpling Gang” find a home?

Directed by Norman Tokar, The Apple Dumpling Gang is a Walt Disney family western movie. The movie was released to moderate reviews but a strong box office return.

I can distinctly remember watching The Apple Dumpling Gang in elementary school during an indoor recess day. The movie was one of those banal films that was completely harmless…parents can tolerate it and it can keep kids relatively entertained. I hadn’t seen The Apple Dumpling Gang in years, and it remains kind of mundane humor mixed with some nostalgia.

apple dumpling gang theodore amos bank tim conway don knotts

We’re wacky!

The story for the film is a bit odd in that it wanders a lot. The first part of the film is Donovan trying to get rid of the kids, the second part involves trying to keep the kids, and the third part is a race to save the kids from Slim Pickens and his gang of robbers. Throughout the movie you get a rather odd love story between Susan Clark and Bill Bixby that feels really forced and lots of gags by Tim Conway and Don Knotts.

The cast is heavily based in the time period. Bill Bixby is solid as the put-upon gambler, but you kind of expect him to turn into the Hulk any moment. The chemistry isn’t really there between Susan Clark and Bixby (it isn’t supposed to be at the beginning), but they do it too well and it feels unrealistic when they fall for each other. While Don Knotts and Tim Conway work well together, it still feels like Conway should be working with Harvey Corman. Slim Pickens isn’t in the film long enough as the real “villain” and David Wayne’s Col. T.R. Clydesdale character seems completely undeveloped (I kind of forgot Harry Morgan wasn’t Dusty’s father).

apple dumpling gang minecar celia clovis bobby clay obrien brad savage stacy manning

1975’s finest special effects…

The movie is a relatively cheap looking film. The movie appears to be shot on the typical backlot western sets and also incorporates some very dated chroma-key photography (like in the minecart portion). It is in line with other Disney productions from the ’60s and ’70s, and it easily could have been made in 1965 instead of 1975.

The Apple Dumpling Gang isn’t bad but it also isn’t very good. The humor is kid level which will make it hard for adults, but the storyline might not hold the interest of kids. As a kid, I could rarely hold my focus on westerns in general, but The Apple Dumpling Gang might be a gentler “gateway” western if you want your kid to watch westerns. The Apple Dumpling Gang was followed by The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again in 1979 with Knotts and Conway returning (and Harry Morgan in a different role). A remake Tales of the Apple Dumpling Gang also ran in 1982 as a TV movie.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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