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10 Shades of Noir
So What's with the Ending of Kiss Me Deadly?
by Alain Silver

Go to an update of this article: Glenn Erickson reveals how the complete ending of Kiss Me Deadly was discovered.

As the first century of filmmaking ends, it is extremely unfortunate that a film as recent and as celebrated as Kiss Me Deadly should be primarily available to new viewers in a truncated version. The 16mm prints, all video versions, and even newer 35mm prints of Kiss Me Deadly are missing Scenes No. 305 and 307,1 which show Velda and the wounded Hammer stumbling into the surf before the beach house in Malibu explodes.

The correct sequence of the ending, which is not exactly as scripted, consists of four events: (1) the house begins to explode; (2) Hammer and Velda stumble into the surf and turn to look back; (3) the house explodes into flames and the title, "The End," emerges from the center of the frame, comes forward optically, and remains superimposed over a last shot (4) of Hammer and Velda holding each other at the water's edge.

I first noticed that events 2 and 4 were missing from a United Artists 16mm print when preparing the frame enlargements for my original Film Comment article on Kiss Me Deadly in 1975. A close inspection of that 16mm print revealed two jump cuts combining the actual house with optical overlays and a miniature for the explosion effect. The cut is masked by the explosion; but, in fact, the lens focal length is different and the angle between the two shots of the house shifts several degrees. Since the last shot is missing, the 16mm optical soundtrack is partially cut off with it. The same cut may be noted in the video copies, although the sound and picture in the last shot of the house are made to fade out quickly so that the abridgement of the end title music is less apparent. A frame-by-frame inspection of the videotape or laser disc reveals the same splice and jump cut joining the two angles of the house. Apparently a new 35mm print shown at an Aldrich retrospective in New York in 1995 also lacked these shots, which would confirm that the two pieces are missing from the 35mm master materials as they exist today.

The first camera angle on the beach house--before the splice.

The second camera angle--after the splice.

As I first mentioned in the third edition of Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style (New York: Overlook/Viking, 1992), some commentators most notably Jack Shadoian in Dreams and Dead Ends and J.P. Telotte in Voices in the Dark, have questioned whether Mike and Velda escape the house at all. Shadoian even suggests that since many of Raymond Durgnat's recollections are wrong, so is his version of the ending.2 Telotte does not know "whether such accounts indicate the existence of an alternate ending for the film or simply represent the kind of creative recollection--prodded by wish fulfillment--that often marks film commentary."3 One might wonder why any commentator would "wish" for Velda and Hammer to survive. Certainly audience expectations might be for that survival, but in terms of narrative irony, it would seem most apt for Hammer to witness the apocalypse which he and others have wrought. Of whatever misrecollections Durgnat may be guilty, this was not one. Even for those who had not seen a 35mm print with the scenes included, as Durgnat and I had, research of the script or still photos might have revealed the truth. I put such a still of Hammer and Velda in the surf in the filmographic section of What Ever Happened to Robert Aldrich? (New York: Limelight, 1994), and long before that another shot was reproduced in Tom Hutchison's piece on Kiss Me Deadly on page 145 of Movies of the Fifties (London: Orbis, 1982).

Even critics who accept the existence of this ending have further compounded the problem by such assertions as "the studio added a final shot still there in some prints showing Hammer and Velda standing amid the waves."4 Here Robin Wood suggests that Aldrich did not want these two cuts in the finished picture. In a more recent book Edward Gallafent asserts that a "gesture to the benign couple remains in some prints."5 These shots should "remain" in all the prints, and Aldrich never regarded them as any sort of gesture. While they had never seen a complete print, in their book Edward Arnold and Eugene Miller asked Aldrich about the ending, and he replied, "I have never seen a print without, repeat, without Hammer and Velda stumbling in the surf. That's the way it was shot, that's the way it was released; the idea being that Mike was left alive long enough to see what havoc he had caused, though certainly he and Velda were both seriously contaminated."6 Aldrich's archives including his personal 35mm print was bequeathed to Directors Guild of America and does contain scenes 305 and 307. The viewers of the laser disc of Kiss Me Deadly can catch a glimpse, in the theatrical trailer included at the end of that disc, of one shot of Mike and Velda in the surf as the house explodes.

Here's the ending of Kiss Me Deadly as an animated GIF, with stills from the deleted scenes. (download -- 250 KB)

Alain Silver, who produces low budget movies, has written previously on Kiss Me Deadly for Film Comment and in the books Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference, What Ever Happened to Robert Aldrich?, and Film Noir Reader. He is currently at work on The Noir Style.

Go to: footnotes.

Go to:
10 Shades of Noir Introduction
The Big HeatThe Big Sleep
The Big ComboDouble Indemnity
Force of EvilGun Crazy
Lady from ShanghaiPickup On South Street
Shadow of a DoubtSweet Smell of Success
Some Additional Choice Noirs
Plus! Alain Silver on the ending of Kiss Me Deadly
And Film Noir Web Links

Photo credits:
Mike and Velda on the beach: Copyright 1955 United Artists Corporation.
Frame snapshots: CBS/Fox Video.

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