Until 1997, all known copies in circulation of "Kiss Me Deadly" ended rather abruptly: we see the wounded Mike Hammer stumbling through the beach house looking for his partner Velda, and then there's a couple of brief shots of the house exploding and burning, with "The End" superimposed on the final shot. The music is cut off instead of fading out and the screen turns black: it looks like Mike and Velda died in the blaze.
The German TV version (the film was never shown theatrically) edits or eliminates the most violent scenes and excises the scene in which Hammer is drugged for interrogation. Furthermore, the dubbing changes the dialogue throughout the film, eliminating all allusions to Hammer's immorality and his prostitution of Velda. Consequently, he is painted as much more of a traditional heroic figure than in the subversive original.
The complete ending footage from Robert Aldrich's version has finally been recovered from the director's own personal print, donated to the Director's Guild of America after his death. This version shows quite clearly that Mike and Velda do not die in the fire.
In the truncated version only four shots of the exploding beach house can still be seen, while the original ending had sixteen shots (totaling over 80 seconds of additional screen time), showing the explosion from new different angles intercut with shots of: Mike and Velda dragging themselves on the beach towards the camera with the burning house behind them; Mike and Velda seen from behind, walking from the camera towards the surf, lightened by the flames projecting long shadows on the sand; and finally Mike and Velda huddled together, kneeling in the water and watching the house burn down as "The End" is superimposed on the screen.
The restored ending was been included in a video edition of Kiss Me Deadly released in the USA in August 1997. The original ending was recovered by editor Glenn Erickson with help from author Alain Silver.
The original ending was shown overseas in various countries (eg. Germany and the UK) when the film was originally released. It appears that the film was actually released in two different versions worldwide and the shortened ending was done specifically for the domestic USA theatrical release. In the UK, although there was a longer ending, the theatrical release was heavily cut by around 7 minutes for violence by the BBFC with the result that the film became nonsensical. For example, the entire scene of Cloris Leachman being tortured was excised and the film cuts from Hammer being knocked out to him waking up again doused with petrol so that you never know what happened to Leachman or the significance of the shoes worn by Albert Dekker. UK TV prints are uncut.