It was a pea-soup night in Southern California when Kiss Me Deadly reeled into Glenn Erickson’s life. He was a film student then — we’re talking early ’70s — and even from a 16-mm print, the future MGM editor could tell something was wrong. Robert Aldrich’s 1955 Mike Hammer flick wasn’t just another tasty bit of noir. This was the film that sparked the French new wave, that would lend Pulp Fiction its glowing suitcase. Still, every time Erickson caught the last shot’s apocalyptic flash — the abrupt cut Francois Truffaut said inspired his elliptic style — it smacked him hard across the face, like an angry dame. ”Someone had messed with it,” he says.
Erickson had heard the rumors that the ending had been ”fixed.” The sought-after suitcase explodes — end of movie. Aldrich refused to explain it. Was it the perfect Atomic Age metaphor from the jittery ’50s? Latter-day critics thought so. Nobody asked any questions.
Until last November, that is, when, together with Aldrich biographer Alain Silver, Erickson cracked the vaults of the Directors Guild, where the late director’s personal print sat gathering dust. And there it was, waiting for discovery, the final 82 seconds of footage that show Ralph Meeker’s Hammer, his girl Friday Marian Carr, and the Earth itself surviving the blast. Soon both endings will see the light of the VCR, courtesy of MGM’s Aug. 12 rerelease.
But whodunit? Who made the snips? Censors might have, preferring the amoral Hammer to pay the ultimate price. Or, submits Erickson, ”someone broke the film and was trying really hard to cover their tracks.” But the trail is cold. ”The movie’s reputation was built in retrospect,” he notes. ”It ran for one month in 1955, then fell off the face of the earth.”
And now it’s back, thanks to Glenn Erickson, film detective.