Saturday, May 25, 2013

SATURDAY MATINEE with Jacquie Rogers

Jacquie Rogers
Movie time!

We've had some interesting and outstanding movies featured here at the Western Fictioneers' Saturday Matinee — dramatic, violent, angst-filled westerns. The hero seeks justice and upholds the code of the west despite all odds. Most of these pictures rank in my favorites, too. But there's room for everything, and we can't watch the same type of film all the time. Right?

When I need a pick-me-up, there's a western movie that will do it every time. It's ...

The Apple Dumpling Gang

It’s a film adaptation of a book of the same title written by the esteemed writing teacher, Jack Bickham, who also wrote a writing craft book still in use today (and on my bookshelf) Elements of Fiction Writing - Scene & Structure. Bickham was a student of Dwight Swain, who wrote Techniques of the Selling Writer, also on my bookshelf.

Bill Bixby and
Susan Clark
The lead characters are a strong heroine, Magnolia "Dusty" Clydesdale played by Susan Clark, and Bill Bixby as Russell Donovan, a gambler with an inconvenient compassionate streak. Bixby and Clark were excellent in this film, but the glory goes to Harry Morgan who played Sheriff (also Quake City’s judge and barber) Homer McCoy, and two outlaws, Theodore and Amos played by Don Knotts and Tim Conway. This film has another outstanding villain, too—Frank Stillwell played by Slim Pickens.

Right from the get-go, we’re introduced to the ineptness of the Hash Knife Outfit, Theodore and Amos. Then we go to the saloon for a lucrative game of poker. As Donovan says, “Well, there's one good thing about luck—it always changes. And I got a feeling mine is just around the corner.”

Gambler Russell Donovan makes a deal to pick up "valuables" in exchange for a poker stake, then tries to renege when he discovers that the precious cargo is actually three children. He argues with the stage driver, Dusty Clydesdale, who happens to be a woman dressed in men’s clothes. She doesn’t relent, and Homer McCoy’s on her side, too:

Donovan, this is just a half portion of a town, but we do have certain what you might call rules to live by. You don't jump another man's claim; you don't steal his wife, woman or whiskey; you don't strike a bargain and then entertain second thoughts about the matter. Any one of these offenses could make you the exalted guest of honor at a hemp party.

Harry Morgan as
Sheriff Homer McCoy
So now Donovan has three children on his hands. He’s directed to a grimy, leaky shack, where he does his best to settle the kids. He makes a mess of supper and the cabin’s filled with smoke when Dusty arrives with a bucket of sonuvagun stew. She puts out the fire, gets the place under control, and after Donovan turns on the charm to get her to take the children, leaves, completely unswayed. The romance subplot has begun.

As in many westerns, gold plays an important part of the story. The children’s father has a mine, and they’re determined to find the gold that their pa promised was there. Donovan tells them there’s no gold but they don’t believe him. He tries to convince or coerce the townspeople to take the children but no one wants to be burdened.

The first major fiasco happens when the kids find an ore cart. They end up taking a wild ride down the mountain and through the Chinese section of town, upsetting the water tank and making a mess of the laundry, and playing havoc in the town proper. Donovan walks out of the saloon counting the money he’s won and the townspeople take it to pay expenses. So now Donovan is still broke and still has three children he doesn’t want.

Of course, the kids do find a huge gold nugget and now all those townspeople who didn’t want the children before want them now. Donovan is still trying to pawn them off on Dusty, and she’s still not buying. Donovan won’t turn them over to just anyone, and the sheriff tries to convince him to marry Dusty to protect the kids. “Dusty's a fine specimen of womanhood! I seen her get caught in a cloudburst once, and I wanna to tell you!”

And no western is complete without a bank robbery. Both the Hash Knife Outfit and the Frank Stillwell and his gang are after the gold. Stillwell isn’t too happy with Amos because Amos shot him in the knee and now he has to wear a brace. “If I ever get within shootin' distance of that doggone Amos Tucker, he's gonna have winders where his ears was.”

Here’s Theodore and Amos as they’re planning to rob the bank.

Don't work up a toot about historical accuracy because there is none in this film.  Gold, gambling, a bank heist, a saloon brawl, and a ladder scene like no other — that's what you'll get.  So grab some popcorn and a cold one.  It's time to for a belly laugh!
May your saddle never slip.

Jacquie Rogers 
Romancing The West
Hearts of Owyhee series
#1: Much Ado About Marshals
#2: Much Ado About Madams
#3: Much Ado About Mavericks


  1. Love, love, LOVE this film. I've introduced it to my boy (11) and he likes it, too. As a nice side effect, my grown-up eyes and brain still enjoy this film. It was one of my first favorites back when it came out.

  2. Nice article. It brought back many fun memories of by-gone flicks.

  3. Boy, where to begin. For funny movies, "The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday" tops my list. Lee Marvin at his finest, and Oliver Reed in such an off-beat role. I'll never forget the aftermath of Marvin's lie to Oliver Reed about the "simple" cure for Cupid's itch...

    As to other movies, "Red River", "Tombstone" "Legends of the Fall". So many movies, so damned little time.

  4. Jacquie, I remember how my mother LOVED this movie. She thought Don Knotts was the funniest thing. Another one of her favorites with him in it was The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. The Apple Dumpling Gang is just such a classic. I love it too. As Scott says, I loved it then and I love it now.

    Sojourner, you are so right. So many movies and so damned little time! LOL

  5. Almost anything with Conway is fun to watch and I always did enjoy this film. I also enjoyed "Support you Local Sheriff" Thanks for the fond memories. Doris

  6. Love the Apple Dumpling Gang with Conway, Knotts, Susan Clark & Bill Bixby..but my westerns favorites are Disney's The Big Country (young Ron Howard & Steve Forest-who just passed away) , John Wayne in the Shootist or The Cowboys, Mel Brooks's Blazzing Saddles, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin in Partners and Bob Hope in Paleface

  7. Scott, I'm glad your son enjoys it. My grandsons think it's hilarious and this movie opened the door for them to watch other westerns.

  8. Norman, thanks for stopping by! Yes, there are tons of great movies and it's sure hard to pick just one.

  9. Sojourner, I've never seen The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday. Sounds like I'd better get that one! Thanks.

  10. Cheryl, considering that Don Knotts plays the brains of the outfit, well, that's funny right there.

  11. Renaissance Women, Tim Conway has always been one of my favorites. Who didn't laugh at him and Harvey Korman in the dentist skit (The Carol Burnett Show)?

  12. Bennet, ah another comedy lover! Blazing Saddles had so many one-liners, most of them anachronistic and hysterically funny.

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  14. I love this movie, being a huge fan of both Don Knotts and Tim Conway. I have vivid memories or seeing this at the theater in 1975; in fact, I remember it was a double feature, with Disney's The Scarecrow following it. For some reason it was also shown in my elementary school a couple of years later, must've been some kind of special movie day. I like comedy westerns in general: Support Your Local Sheriff is my favorite, and I liked the sequel (Support Your Local Gunfighter) as well... and the Trinity movies... and the 1960s British movie Carry On Cowboy...

  15. Troy, I saw it in my elementary school too. Wonder how that worked in pre-VCR days.

  16. Well, y'all got different movies than we did. LOL (I'm in my mid 50's) We saw movies like Fail Safe, and Wait Until Dark, and The Birds. LOL And we had to PAY to see them--it cost .50 to get to go to a movie in the school auditorium (we did this about once a year, probably when they needed money for something new in the school)and of course nearly everyone came up with it becuase you got out of class.

  17. I think we had to pay, too. I also remember Swiss Family Robinson being shown.

  18. I loved this movie. I enjoyed the lighthearted westerns of the 70s.