Stiletto (1969)

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Original title Stiletto
Country of production United States
Original language German
Year of publication 1969
Length 100 minutes
Age rating FSK 18
Director Bernard L. Kowalski
Script Harold Robbins
A. J. Russell
Production Norman Rosemont
Music Sid Ramin
Camera Jack Priestley
Edited by Stuart Chasmar
  • Alex Cord: Cesare Cardinali
  • Britt Ekland: Illeana
  • Patrick O’Neal: George Baker
  • Joseph Wiseman: Emilio Matteo
  • Barbara McNair: Ahn Dessie
  • John Dehner: Frank Simpson
  • Eduardo Ciannelli: Don Andrea
  • Roy Scheider: Bennett
  • James Tolkan: Edwards

Stiletto is a 1969 American crime film by director Bernard L. Kowalski, based on the novel of the same name by Harold Robbins.


Cesare Cardinali is an aspiring car dealer and playboy in New York. He works as a contract killer for mafia boss Emilio Matteo, stabbing his victims with a stiletto. Cardinali is in debt to Matteo, who saved his life years ago in Italy. Cardinali has a new assignment and is watching his victim in a nightclub. Meanwhile, District Attorney Frank Simpson tries to indict Matteo and two other mob members. However, Matteo is released and orders Cardinali to eliminate two possible witnesses. Cardinali completes his assignment and follows Matteo, who has been deported to Italy. There, he wants to part ways with Matteo because he believes his debt has been paid off. But Matteo does not want to lose his killer.

Simpson’s deputy, George Baker, finds evidence that points to Cardinali as the killer. In order to investigate further on his own, he resigns his position. Cardinali returns to the U.S. to find that he has been sentenced to death by the Mafia. Matteo is his only hope. Cardinali sends his wife Illeana to Italy to alert Matteo. She is met at the airport by Baker and interrogated. Only when Baker knows about Cardinali’s situation is she allowed on the plane.

Illeana is able to get Matteo to meet with Cardinali in Puerto Rico. Don Andrea, the head of the New York Mafia, orders Cardinali killed because he is no longer useful. Cardinali is staying in Harlem with his girlfriend Ahn Dessie. Mafia hitmen attack and kill Ahn, but Cardinali is able to escape to Puerto Rico. Baker, who has been tapping Illeana’s phone, follows him and witnesses the meeting. Too late, he notices the assassin armed with a rifle, who shoots Cardinali. Baker kills Matteo and is then killed by the assassin.


The Encyclopedia of International Film describes the film as a “crime thriller, not uninteresting in subject matter, that is smothered in pomp and trivialities that seem contrived, and plays out brutal scenes in an unnecessarily blatant manner.”[1]

Howard Thompson of the New York Times writes that the film has no point of view and no mercy. But what starts out like a tough lesson in mob terror turns into a lame, conventional car chase that rivals the corniest Westerns.[2]

The Evangelical Film Observer’s verdict is overwhelmingly positive: filmed from a best-selling book by Harold Robbins, the film features good acting and an exciting plot. The pessimistic outcome should probably make US audiences think. For friends of the hard thriller.[3]


The premiere took place on 30 July 1969. The film was first released in Germany on June 25, 1970, and was filmed in New York and Puerto Rico.

In small supporting roles are Olympia Dukakis, Charles Durning (in his first feature film role), Raúl Juliá (film debut) and M. Emmet Walsh (second screen appearance).


Harold Robbins: Stiletto – English edition – Ulverscroft, 1983 – ISBN 0-7089-8101-1

Web links

  • Stiletto in the Internet Movie Database (english)

Individual references

  1. Stiletto. In: encyclopedia ofinternational film. Filmdienst, retrieved 2 March 2017. template:LdiF/maintenance/accessused
  3. Evangelical Press Association Munich, Critique No. 281/1970