Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975) & The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (1979)


          Standard Disney live-action fare about cute youngsters getting into mischief, The Apple Dumpling Gang features skillful support from grown-up players Bill Bixby, Tim Conway, Don Knotts, Harry Morgan, and Slim Pickens. The Old West story concerns three young orphans whose varmint uncle dumps them into the care of an irresponsible gambler (Bill Bixby), who in turn tries to dump the kids onto someone else until the moppets discover gold in a mine belonging to their family. When assorted disreputable types try to rip off the gold, seeing the children endangered causes Bixby to grow a conscience. Television icons Conway and Knotts are the main attraction, working as a comedy duo for the first time, and they’re comfortably amusing even though their slapstick antics as a pair of inept outlaws are contrived and silly (typical bit: trying to steal a ladder from a firehouse and slamming the ladder into everything in sight). Earnest, old-fashioned, and beyond predictable, The Apple Dumpling Gang moves along at a pleasant clip, despite cloying music and rickety process shots, so the movie is innocuous entertainment for very young viewers; grown-ups should be able to swallow everything except perhaps the requisite warm fuzzies at the end and the cutesy theme song.
          Bixby and the kids were jettisoned for the sequel, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, in which Conway and Knotts try to go straight but end up running afoul of the army, a crazed sheriff, and a criminal gang, causing destructive mayhem along the way. The sequel’s storyline is a patchwork of Western clichés—the climax is a train robbery—so neither Conway’s deadpan delivery nor Knotts’ bug-eyed crankiness is enough to liven up the proceedings. And the less said about the scene they play in drag, the better. Harry Morgan returns in a different role than he played in the first movie, while Tim Matheson, Jack Elam, and Kenneth Mars add color to the cast. The overstuffed plot and the depiction of the “heroes” as complete morons makes the sequel far less palatable than its predecessor, but as a small mercy for those who take the plunge, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again runs its forgettable course in a mere 88 minutes.

The Apple Dumpling Gang: FUNKY
The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again: LAME

2 comments:

Alan Beauvais said...

Actually, the kids - never once expressing the slightest hint of mourning, by the way - were orphaned by the death of their parents and sent west to live with their uncle. The sly uncle, however, tricked Bixby into claiming them before skipping town. While it did take a while for Bixby to warm up to the kids (despite their taking an instant liking to him), the mutual respect materialized long before the kids fell into harm's way during the film's climax.

Alan Beauvais said...

Actually, the kids - never once expressing the slightest hint of mourning, by the way - were orphaned by the death of their parents and sent west to live with their uncle. The sly uncle, however, tricked Bixby into claiming them before skipping town. While it did take a while for Bixby to warm up to the kids (despite their taking an instant liking to him), the mutual respect materialized long before the kids fell into harm's way during the film's climax.