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Television and movie comedy veterans Tim Conway and Don Knotts teamed up for a second time in 1979's The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again from Walt Disney Studios, the sequel to The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975). The first movie, a genial western comedy, was a surprise hit and it was inevitable that the two favorites would be called upon to reprise their roles in the new movie. The studio hoped that the re-teaming of these comic greats would entice audiences to the theaters one more time.
The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again picked up where the original left off outlaws Amos Tucker (Tim Conway) and Theodore Olevie (Don Knotts) had resolved to go straight after tangling with three rambunctious orphans over a valuable gold mine in the last outing. The screenplay, by veteran television writer Don Tait, was a lively combination of western movie conventions bank robberies, fast guns, twitchy sheriffs, a frontier fort and slapstick shenanigans performed with the comedy bravado that was a specialty of Conway and Knotts. Both had cultivated images as consummate bumblers, especially Knotts from his years as Deputy Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show, where he was one of television's most adored characters.
Knotts, who had cut his teeth on Broadway and in early television comedy (The Steve Allen Show), left his Barney Fife role in the mid-sixties to star in a series of successful features for various studios, including The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966) and The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964). Throughout the late 1960s and 1970s Knotts moved between screen comedies and television work, still one of America's favorite funnymen, a reputation he would cement and update with his co-starring role on the racy sitcom Three's Company beginning in 1979. Co-star Tim Conway began his comedy career in stand-up, and was soon appearing on television's The Steve Allen Show, alongside you guessed it Don Knotts. Conway achieved his own sitcom stardom in McHale's Navy and its multi-year run, and later joined the cast of The Carol Burnett Show where he famously teamed up with Harvey Korman.
Vincent McEveety, the director of The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, is an industry veteran who began his career in episodic television Perry Mason, Star Trek, Gunsmoke and many, many more and became a regular on the Disney lot, also helming other Disney live-action studio releases such as The Million Dollar Duck (1971), Superdad (1973), Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977) and many others. The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again was filmed right on the Disney studio lot, but also availed itself of several famous Western movie locations both nearby and further afield. In 1959 Walt Disney had purchased a 300-plus acre ranch a little less than an hour from Los Angeles, in Placerita, near Newhall, California. The Golden Oak Ranch, so named in honor of the true story of the 1840s gold prospector who, after a long and fruitless search for the ore, fell asleep under a big oak tree on the property. When he awoke he was so hungry he pulled a few wild onions from the ground to eat, and he found flakes of gold mixed in the soil hanging to the roots. He had found his Golden Oak, indeed, and Disney's vision for the property was to keep it a pristine location where movie companies could find the ideal outdoor terrain.
Disney first used the ranch as the setting for its Spin and Marty television series and later for the Zorro series as well as movies such as Toby Tyler (1960), Old Yeller (1957), Pete's Dragon (1977), the original The Apple Dumpling Gang, and numerous others. Studios other than Disney also used the ranch's authentic and untouched grounds for productions such as Roots II, Little House on the Prairie, Bonanza, Murder She Wrote, The X Files and countless more. Functioning as a working cattle farm, Golden Oak Ranch was expanded from its original 300 acres to more than 700 through land purchases made by Walt Disney, even as he saw other movie studios selling off their backlots to real estate developers. His foresight protected the property from encroachments such as the building of the Ventura Freeway he convinced them to move the route in back of a mountain, shielding his ranch from the traffic's roar and ensured its longevity, to this day, as a precious evocation of an earlier time. Unfortunately, it's not open for tours to the general public.
The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again also traveled out of state to film in the Kanab area of Utah, a popular site for Western movie location filming since the 1920s. The perfectly bleak and desolate geography lured the producers of classics such as Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), Stagecoach (1939), Union Pacific (1939), Brigham Young, Frontiersman (1940), Buffalo Bill (1944), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), Westward the Women (1951) and hundreds of others over the years, including more recent movies such as Maverick (1994). The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again primarily used the Kanab Movie Fort location for the sequences in the film where Knotts and Conway join the Army and befriend a dashing young soldier (Tim Matheson) and his commander, played by Harry Morgan. As part of the script, one of the main buildings was partially burned down and remains standing today in that same condition on the Fort location, which, along with other Kanab area movie sites, is open to visitors. The Kanab Movie Ranch, which is now the home of the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, is one of the other The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again locations open to the public. The company also did some filming in nearby Glen Canyon, Utah, plus in Las Vegas and Sonora, California.
Although The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again was not a movie that would depend on the critics for its success, reviews were on the tepid side, mostly declaring it hadn't quite the appeal of its predecessor. However, the presence of skilled actors like Kenneth Mars, Jack Elam, Tim Matheson, Harry Morgan, Ruth Buzzi, Audrey Totter, and Robert Pine, in addition to the incomparable comic duo of Don Knotts and Tim Conway, assured that fans of the original Apple Dumpling Gang weren't disappointed in the least.
Producer: Ron Miller
Director: Vincent McEveety
Screenplay: Don Tait
Cinematography: Frank V. Phillips
Art Direction: John B. Mansbridge
Music: Buddy Baker
Film Editing: Gordon D. Brenner
Cast: Tim Conway (Amos Tucker), Don Knotts (Theodore Olevie), Tim Matheson (Pvt. Jeff Reed), Kenneth Mars (Marshal Woolly Bill Hitchcock), Elyssa Davalos (Milly Gaskill), Jack Elam (Big Mack), Robert Pine(Lt. Jim Ravencroft), Harry Morgan (Maj. Gaskill), Ruth Buzzi (Old Tough Kate, aka 'Granny'), Audrey Totter (Martha Osten, blind cabin widow), Richard X. Slattery (Sgt. Slaughter, chief soldier), John Crawford (Sherick).
C-88m. Closed captioning.
by Lisa Mateas