« The Projectionist | Main | The Man in Search of his Murderer »

March 30, 2021



Bernard L. Kowalski - 1969
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

This is essentially a pulp movie from a pulp novel. I do not think anyone ever has read a novel by Harold Robbins or seen a film adaptation from his novels expecting anything more than escapist entertainment. If a Robbins novel is something to be read while lounging by the beach on a summer day, Stiletto, the movie, might ideally be seen at home while sipping martinis.

For me, the real star of Stiletto is composer Sid Ramin. His score, a mix of lounge music, Herb Alpert style trumpet and a smattering of imitation Jimmy Smith doodling on the Hammond organ heard during the opening credit sequence informs the rest of the film. Ramin is most famous for his hit instrumental, "Music to Watch Girls By", back in 1967. No, I will not apologize for the attitudes of a past era. Sure, there are many "what were they thinking?" moments, but the film has be enjoyed on its own terms.

Cesare Cardinali is a mafia hit man from Italy who uses a stiletto knife to murder his victims. His front is his New York City import auto store plus racing customized cars. Cardinali also maintains relationships simultaneously with two women. Cardinali's victims are all mobsters under federal investigation. Wanting to retire from "the society" as it is euphemistically called here proves impossible.

Alex Cord never quite achieved the stardom some expected in the late Sixties, but he is well cast here. Born Alexander Viespi, Jr., Cord is able to slip in and out of speaking Italian in a few scenes. Patrick O'Neal appears as the federal prosecutor who has his eye on Cardinali as well as Cardinali's boss, played by Joseph Wiseman. Barbara McNair and Britt Ekland share Cord's affections. The still relatively unknown Roy Scheider appears as a mob attorney. Also making uncredited appearances are Olympia Dukakis, Charles Durning and M. Emmet Walsh. There is also some celebrity spotting when Cardinali shows up at a movie premiere, integrating footage of Cord with that of Peter O'Toole, Henry Fonda and William Buckley (!), presumably for The Lion in Winter, like Stiletto an Avco Embassy production.

A flashback scene at the beginning that is meant to establish Cardinali's character is a bit unclear. Processed using a sepia tone, the lack of a period appropriate haircut for Cardinali and his victim, a similarly aged man he has cuckolded, makes a time period difficult to ascertain. Also, making the scene dialogue free does not help. There are several moments of ill-advised artistic touches which might be attributed to editor Frank Mazzola, who has previously edited the montage-filled Performance ( filmed in 1968 but shelved until 1970), a frequent collaborator of director Donald Cammell.

The commentary track is from historian David Del Valle and director David DeCoteau. This is mostly casual banter between two friends that touches upon the life and career of Harold Robbins, as well as the careers of the main actors. The two note that due to the pandemic, access to research material has been limited. Still, much like Stiletto, the commentary track is reasonably entertaining.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at March 30, 2021 06:59 AM