Making the Grades
When a lone stranger drifts into Quake City, California, he is unaware of what is about to befall him. Card-shark Russell Donavon (Bill Bixby) is only looking for an opportunity to make some fast cash in a poker game before continuing on his journey to New Orleans.
His arrival attracts the attention of local down-on-their-luck delinquents Theodore (Don Knotts) and Amos (Tim Conway), who are also looking for a quick money grab. Recently rejected by a group of outlaws no longer wishing to be handicapped by their clumsiness, the castoffs have decided to start a gang of their own. In a clear case of the blind leading the blind, the wannabe bandits make Donavon their target, mistaking his fancy clothes as a sign of wealth.
Unaware, the marked man wanders into the saloon where he bumps into more trouble. Meeting an old acquaintance, the gambler agrees to collect a "valuable" delivery from the stagecoach in his friend's place. But the hustler realizes he has been hustled when the expected package turns out to be three orphaned children.
Desperately trying to wash his hands of the obligation, the confirmed bachelor attempts to persuade someone else to accept custody of the youngsters, such as the tomboy stagecoach driver Dusty (Susan Clark). However, his smooth-talk fails to charm anyone except the kids. Taking a shine to the gentleman, they are convinced Donavan will make a great dad.
Things really get complicated a few days later after the children find a bread-loaf-sized gold nugget while exploring an abandoned mine. Suddenly the townsfolk are only too willing to relieve Donavon of his responsibility, while more unsavory characters devise other ways of getting the gold.
Believing fortune's fickle fancy has finally smiled upon them, Theodore and Amos also begin planning ways to pinch the pricey piece of metal, until the nugget's little owners come to them with an even better offer. Their plan includes finding Donavan a wife, themselves a mother, and a big pay off for the softheaded, weak-kneed desperados.
With the talented Knotts and Conaway playing the parts of faint-hearted leader and blithely oblivious follower, the plot quickly explodes into chaos and comedy. Their zany antics and slapstick style often defuse the story's villainy. Other concerns for parents are the humorous depiction of a child with a bladder problem, a cigar smoking main character, some moments of peril and a mild reference to a man seeking his "husbandly rights" that escalates into a bar brawl.
Even if Donavon doesn't see it coming, it's pretty obvious his short stopover, plagued with helpless children, hapless crooks, and a not so convenient proposal for a marriage of convenience, will change his life forever.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Apple Dumpling Gang.
One character makes a quip about how getting married negatively affects the way two people treat each other. Have you noticed other movies portraying tying-the-knot as the worst thing that could happen to a relationship? How do you feel about matrimony? What things in your life are worth making a commitment to?