Henry Dimsdale (Bob Hope), a widower struggling with seven kids, finds $10,000 in a parking lot. Wary at first, but encouraged by family and friends, he eventually goes about treating himself and the kids to some gifts. While making plans to finally wed his girlfriend Ellie (Goldfinger (1964) girl Shirley Eaton). Alas, Henry's luck takes a turn for the worse. His employers at the local bank discover a substantial money shortage in their books. Framed for embezzlement, Henry skips town with all seven children in tow along with their unruly dog. Meanwhile Golda (Phyllis Diller), the Dimsdales' zany housekeeper, tries her utmost to derail boyfriend Police Sergeant Jasper Lynch (Jonathan Winters) in his efforts to track Henry down.
Eight on the Lam is a quintessential example of where comedian Bob Hope's career was at in the mid-to-late Sixties. By then the critical consensus was that the quickfire quipster had lost his edge, having devolved into a conservative court jester. A theory sadly born out by a succession of sadly middle of the road comic vehicles although a string of popular, if controversial, U.S.O. tours (most notably the Vietnam War), public engagements and television specials well into the Nineties kept Bob in the public eye right up till his death. And on occasions showed flickers of the old rapier wit. Traces of which still linger in the odd moment here. As when whilst posing as a waiter Henry causes chaos in a restaurant or later when he disguises himself as a Texas oil billionaire to fool gold-digging sexpot Jill St. John (this film has the distinction of featuring both past and future Bond girls).
Fresh off another comedy, Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! (1966) (a title name-checked in an in-joke by Phyllis Diller's scatterbrained Golda), Hope here re-teams with George Marshall, director of several of his most inspired vehicles (e.g. The Ghost Breakers (1940), Monsieur Beaucaire (1946), Fancy Pants (1950), for another of those 'ageing star with a bunch of kids' comedies (e.g. Yours, Mine and Ours (1968), With Six You Get Eggroll (1968)) curiously popular in the late Sixties. Maybe such films offered older audiences a semblance of comforting stability amidst a decade infamous for the social upheaval wrought by the generation gap. Even so the script does not give Hope's young co-stars, including the star's real-life children Robert Hope and Avis Hope and Sixties teen film staple Stacey Gregg (later a prolific voice actress in anime including the title role in Project A-Ko (1987)!), anything in the way of personality. Nor much impact on the plot.
The sitcom-like set-up starts with an interesting idea. $10,000 not only gives Henry Dimsdale the means to provide for his unusually large brood but also proves the catalyst that shakes him out of a stultifying domestic rut. On the run from the law he is able to use his wits and grab some thrills out of life. But the script, which takes forever to actually get the family on the lam only to immediately landlock them again when they hide out at a model home (where Hope grows a frankly jarring beard - later trimmed down to a mustache), simply plods along without milking its comic potential. Most of Bob's creaky one-liners go down like so many lead balloons along with the script's archaic attempts at risqué humour. Still the star remains a charismatic, likable presence and the story, while laboured, has a certain wholesome charm. Bringing some energy to an otherwise tepid yarn, legendary comedian Jonathan Winters (who also portrays his own mother in a too brief scene) and Phyllis Diller (like Jill St. John a regular sparring partner for Hope on his comedy specials, punctuating every zinger with her trademark cackle) snag most of the zanier scenes. Not funnier necessarily but certainly zanier. It ends, as almost all these kinds of comedies did in the Sixties, with most of the cast driving dune buggies in a fast-motion chase.