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Despite intensive research it is almost impossible to completely uncover the circumstances that led to the existence of two endings, the complete ending with scenes showing Hammer and Velda escaping to the beach and into the surf and a shortened ending (a.k.a. the US censorship ending) that ends with the beach house exploding, insinuating that Hammer and Velda died in the explosion.The main theory as to why this ending exists is that it was a censorship measure, presumably imposed by a United Artists executive in hopes of earning the controversial film a run in conservative Southern areas.The best run-down of events leading to the restoration of the original ending and the initial censorship measures imposed is here:http://www.noiroftheweek.com/2007/07/restoration-of-kiss-me-deadly-1955.html
As explained above, the longer ending with scenes showing Hammer and Velda on the beach and in the surf is the original ending. This ending has been recovered for the restored film version available on DVD. Despite the shortened version being more well-known in the US (and thus considered the original by many viewers), it is definitely an ending edited after the completion of the film by his director and without the latter's approval. As Aldrich explained: "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." (as quoted in: Edwin T. Arnold and Eugene L Miller, The Films and Career of Robert Aldrich, p. 246.)
Sometimes the shortened ending (the US censorship ending) is falsely referred to as the European ending, following erroneous claims by sources such as the Turner Classic Movies channel that the shortened ending comes from European versions of the film. As explained above, it is really the opposite. The so-called European ending is the US censorship ending widely shown in the US before restoration of the film in the late-1990's. The real European ending always has, for the most part, been the complete ending with Hammer and Velda at the beach, indicating that the edits in the shortened ending originate in the US and happened after prints with the intact ending were sent to Europe. What complicates this situation further is that some of the censored US prints also found their way to Europe, with both film versions existing simultaneously in France and Great Britain, whereas the German version always included the correct ending.
The McGuffin-like object everyone is looking for is some sort of nuclear device, a miniature H-bomb. Apart from some vague allusions by police lieutenant Pat Murphy it is never fully explained what the device is or its specific purpose. Scientifically this device is completely nonsensical, bringing the film into science fiction territory.
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