The film is based on the novel of the same name by Jack Bickham. The eponymous gang is named after the American dessert, the apple dumpling. Buddy Baker composed the music for it and its 1979 sequel, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again. The song "The Apple Dumpling Gang", as heard in the opening and closing credits, was composed by Shane Tatum and was sung by Randy Sparks and The Back Porch Majority.
Tagline: Wanted: For chicanery, skulduggery, tomfoolery, and habitual bungling!
The film costars Tim Conway and Don Knotts as Theodore and Amos, a pair of bumbling holdup men who try to steal gold, but are later offered it by a group of children. Conway and Knotts play the leads in the sequel in which Bixby and the rest of the original cast – with the exception of Harry Morgan as the sheriff – do not appear. It also features Susan Clark as Magnolia Dusty Clydesdale, the stagecoach driver who is persuaded to marry Russell in an attempt for both of them to keep custody of the children; Harry Morgan as Homer McCoy, the sheriff who doubles as the barber, Justice of the Peace, and the judge; and Slim Pickens as Frank Stillwell, Theodore and Amos' former boss who tries to kidnap the children and steal the gold.
- Bill Bixby - Russell Donovan
- Susan Clark - Magnolia Dusty Clydesdale
- Don Knotts - Theodore Ogelvie
- Tim Conway - Amos Tucker
- David Wayne - Col. T.R. Clydesdale
- Slim Pickens- Frank Stillwell
- Harry Morgan - Homer McCoy
- John McGiver - Leonard Sharpe
- Don Knight - John Wintle
- Clay O'Brien - Bobby Bradley
- Brad Savage - Clovis Bradley
- Stacy Manning - Celia Bradley
- Dennis Fimple - Rudy Hooks
- Pepe Callahan - Clemons
- Iris Adrian - Poker Polly
- Fran Ryan - Mrs. Stockley
- Bing Russell - Herm Dally
- James E. Brodhead - The Mouthpiece
- Jim Boles - Easy Archie
- Olan Soule - Rube Cluck
- Tom Waters - Rowdy Joe Dover
- Dawn Little Sky - Big Foot
- Joshua Shelley - Broadway Phil
- Richard Lee-Sung - Oh So
- Arthur Wong - No So
- Dick Winslow - Slippery Sid
- Bill Dunbar - Fast Eddie
- Wally Berns - Cheating Charley
The film was a hit at the box office and was the most successful Disney film of the 1970s. In October 1980, it became one of the first Disney movies to be released on videocassette. It is also known as being the first film to feature the comedy duo of Don Knotts and Tim Conway. They developed different styles of pulling off their comedy; Conway's characters were usually the dumber of the two, which made Knotts usually the brains of the group, though they were both equally inept. Both it and its sequel have been released on Disney DVD in the United States. In the United Kingdom, only the original film has been made available on DVD.
Sequel and TV series
In 1979, Knotts and Conway reprised their roles in the unsuccessful sequel The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again. Bill Bixby, Susan Clark, and the rest of the cast did not appear. Harry Morgan was the only other member of the cast to appear in it, although he plays a different character. Without the presence of Bill Bixby, Susan Clark and the three children, the film was not a success. Knotts and Conway would team up for two more films together, they were also in Gus released in 1976, even though they did not share any scenes together; instead, Tom Bosley was Conway's foil in that film.
In January 1982, Disney aired Tales of the Apple Dumpling Gang, a television film starring Ed Begley, Jr. in the Conway role and Arte Johnson in the Knotts role. Two months later saw the premiere of a television series, Gun Shy, with a completely different cast, including Barry Van Dyke in the Bixby role. Six episodes were produced.