Thursday, September 2, 2010

Underrated Performer of the Month: Peggy Cummins

Despite her unique combination of sweetness and sex appeal, Welsh actress Peggy Cummins rarely got roles that allowed her to shine. When she got her chance, though, Cummins delivered a sensational performance as sharp-shooting bad girl in the 1949 film noir classic Gun Crazy (aka Deadly Is the Female).

Born Augusta Margaret Diane Fuller in 1925, Peggy Cummins made her film debut in the now-lost 1940 drama Dr. O’Dowd. After appearing with Michael Wilding in the British class satire English Without Tears, Cummins caught the eye of 20th Century-Fox mogul Darryl F. Zanuck.

As part of a much-publicized star search, Zanuck brought her to Hollywood in 1945 to star in Forever Amber. The film, based on Kathleen Winsor’s bestseller, told the story of a beautiful, impoverished young woman who uses men to climb to the top of society in 17th century England. Condemned by the Hays Office before it was even finished, the production of Forever Amber was fraught with problems. Otto Preminger replaced original director John M. Stahl. Zanuck then replaced Peggy Cummins with Linda Darnell. The official reason was that Cummins was “too young” for the part.

After appearing in a string of forgettable films, Cummins starred with John Dahl in the low-budget Gun Crazy. The tale of two young people madly in love with each other—and guns—flopped when originally released. By the 1970s, though, it had become a cult favorite with film noir fans who appreciated the sexual undercurrents and the sizzling chemistry between Cummins and Dahl.

After Gun Crazy, Peggy Cummins returned to Britain and made a handful of pleasant films, one of the best being Always a Bride (1953). She and Ronald Squire played father-daughter con artists out to dupe unsuspecting men on the Riviera. Her most famous film of this period was the horror classic Curse of the Demon (aka Night of the Demon). Although the film justifies its sterling reputation, Cummins’s role is a thankless one as the love interest of Dana Andrews’ investigator of paranormal activities.

Peggy Cummins retired from acting in 1960. She spent most of her time living in Sussex with her husband Derek Dunnett, whom she married in 1950 (she had several well-publicized romances prior to beau was allegedly Howard Hughes). She and Dunnett had two children. He died in 2000.

In 2006, when Elstree Film Classics screened Curse of the Demon as of the 50th Town Festival, Peggy Cummins made a rare appearance as the guest of honor. In her review of the festivities “A Night with a Demon,” Katherine Haynes described Peggy Cummins as looking “slim and elegant” and “nowhere near her age.”


  1. Good selection for this month's underrated performer, Rick. Peggy is sensational in GUN an entirely different (and smaller) role, she stood out as the daughter of Ronald Colman in Joseph Mankiewicz's THE LATE GEOGE APLEY (1947).

  2. Rick, You may already know Peggy Cummins, performance in the film, Gun Crazy, is one of my favoite film noirs. Because.. of your awesome review, I'm going to pop the DVD into the player and watch the film, Gun Crazy later today. This movie always reminds me of Bonnie and Clyde.

  3. I didn't really know anything about Peggy Cummins, Rick, other than seeing her in Curse of the Demon. I'll have to watch Colman's "The Late George Apley" again and watch for her. It's too bad her career fizzled, but so much of movie success is luck and timing. I think it's great that "Gun Crazy" is a cult classic and that she will be remembered. Good choice for underrated performer!

  4. Rick, the first film in which I really remember Peggy Cummins was the classic "Night of the Demon." When I saw her in "Gun Crazy" I was blown away because her performance was excellent and her character was very different from Professor Harrington's niece. I love her perfectly coifed hair and think she has a very interesting and beautiful voice. Thank you for your excellent write-up of a very talented actress.

  5. She is not Welsh, she was born in Wales of Irish parents, and I know this because her father, Franklin Bland Fuller was my grandfather's first cousin!