The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (1979) – Vincent McEveety

Tim Conway and Don Knotts return as the hapless comedic pair Amos and Theodore in the sequel to the 1975 Disney family/comedy/western The Apple Dumpling Gang. This time around the pair, and the script are unfettered by everything that went before it, though the characters from the previous film are mentioned.

This time, Amos and Theodore are out on their own. With the hound dog donkey Clarissa in tow, the pair end up in Junction City, deciding whether to play it straight or try and pull a job. From there, even as they decide to go mostly straight, things go sideways for the pair, as they end up on the bad side of Wooly Bill Hitchcock (Kenneth Mars), get captured and pressed into service by a calvary division led by Major Gaskill (Harry Potter), get involved with a train-robbing gang led by Big Mac (Jack Elam) and fall afoul of an investigation into the selling of arms from Gaskill’s post.

The pair’s motivations seem to change from scene to scene, and there’s a bit of a haphazard romance thrown into the mix between Gaskill’s daughter, Millie (Elyssa Davalos), Lt. Jim Ravencroft (Robert Pine) and Private Jeff Reed (Tim Matheson).

So it ends up being silly, and mindless, and you wonder what the blooper reel looked like and how often Conway and Knotts busted one another up.

The film still falls squarely in the family/comedy/western genre of Disney’s first film, but focusing on Amos and Theodore removes the child actors from the story, and lets these two comedic legends make the west really wild.

The film still plays with all the stereotypes you would expect, villainous baddies, romance on the high plains, chases, shootouts and sweeping locales, but it’s Conway and Knotts that really make this film shine.

Much like the first film, I remember seeing this at a matinee screening, and I no doubt saw it on video after my family bought into the home video craze and we’d be renting movies for the weekend.

I found myself chuckling at the pair throughout this film, no matter the trappings these two are comedic gold, and I loved watching all of their pairings. I remember watching these films and then getting so excited in 1981 when they started advertising for another pairing for the film Private Eyes, which I remember delighting in as a child (and a woman screaming in the audience at a rather goofy monster appearance).

But films like this one show that just because it’s family-friendly doesn’t mean that you’re not going to enjoy it. It’s light entertainment, and Knotts and Conway show how priceless they are in their team-ups.

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