Marcello Mastroianni has a terrific role in the little-remembered 1968 comedy caper film "Diamonds for Breakfast" which doesn't appear to have enjoyed an American theatrical release. (In the U.K., it opened on as the bottom half of a double bill with a spaghetti western.) Mastroianni excelled at playing lovable rogues and here he is in his element as Grand Duke Nicholas Wladimirovitch, a descendant of the ill-fated Romanov family that was notoriously executed in the aftermath of the 1917 Russian Revolution. Nicky has the requisite swagger of someone descended from Russia's last czar but he has fallen on hard times. His charm, charisma and good looks ensure a bevy of willing women (especially in the new era of sexual liberation) but his finances are dwindling. While in London he discovers that the Soviet Union has agreed stage a museum display of the Romanov family jewels that were seized as property of the state after the czar was overthrown. Nicky decides that he must honor his family's legacy by stealing them back, although his motives seem to based less on principal than on securing his own financial situation. He concocts an audacious scheme to enlist a wacky artist, Bridget Rafferty (Rita Tushingham) and a team of gorgeous young women as his partners in crime. The first order of business is to convince Popov (Warren Mitchell), the high-strung Soviet representative who has duty of ensuring the safety of the jewels, to allow them to be utilized in a charitable event at a manor house (actually Blenheim Palace) where they will be modeled by Nicky's team of allies. Popov initially resists but ultimately is charmed by the pleas of the young women to relent. From there the film chronicles the elaborate enactment of the crime that involves too many elements and deceptions to analyze in detail. Suffice it to say that one of the most clever elements involves carrier pigeons to secure the heisted goods are brought to a designated location.
The film is directed at breakneck speed by Christopher Morahan and in that respect, it mirrors the type of production that had emerged in movies depicting the on-going "mod" crazy that was sweeping England in the late 1960s. Morahan is also not subtle in his handling of the humor, occasionally crossing over into slapstick with a Keystone Cops-inspired chase. The screenwriters also fall short. Although the actual caper scenes, which comprise the bulk of the film, are often clever, they are also somewhat ludicrous with the crooks relying on unpredictable instances of happenstance and good luck in order to achieve their goal. The man asset of the production is Mastroianni, who once again plays a handsome ladies man who also possesses all-to-human failings. He literally slips on a banana peel and makes other bumbling mistakes even though he's quite competent at finding gorgeous bed mates. Rita Tushingham is unfortunately relegated to a minor role once the other women become more prominent in the story. (Among them: Margaret Blye, Elaine Taylor and Francesca Tu.) Leonard Rossiter is amusing as a police inspector who is beguiled by the seductive models and Warren Mitchell is encouraged to chew the scenery as the angst-filled Soviet who knows his life probably depends upon getting back the stolen diamonds. The whole affair ends up with an ironic ending, as many of these comedic caper films do.
"Diamonds for Breakfast" is a mildly amusing farce with some good production values and some wonderful memories of the mod era with those sexy fashions and models who have the code number "007" written on their thighs. Mastroianni and some lush scenery provide the primary reasons for giving it a chance. The Kino Lorber transfer looks very good indeed and there is a generous trailer gallery of other Mastroianni and Tushingham films, though surprisingly, "Diamonds for Breakfast"'s trailer is not included.