Gentlemen act like asses around girls with guns and glasses!

The British actress Peggy Cummins (born 1925) is best known for her role as the sociopathic sharpshooter in the 1949 film noir Gun Crazy. Although I haven’t seen that film recently, I can still remember her ferocious femme fatale energy in it…

Actually, of the three shots above, the one I find most interesting is the third one, because it shows the emotionally penetrative power a fatal woman can exercise without a gun…the power they have all too often in the lives of normal men—i.e., not men on the run from holding up banks, like the characters played by Cummins and John Dall in Gun Crazy

The power to simply overwhelm men by manipulating masculine need

I haven’t seen Gun Crazy lately because I actually find it depressing. About a year ago I bought a DVD copy, and I still haven’t opened it. I identify with John Dall in that shot above…replace Peggy Cummins with a stripper soliciting a lapdance, and you have a photo-portrait of your Horny Time Traveler, a man who respects and fears the allure of the charismatic woman, whether she be psychologically healthy or twisted…

I was thinking about Peggy, who enjoyed a career from the late 40s to the 60s, because I saw her the other night in The Late George Apley, wherein she plays a headstrong (but charming, not abrasive) Boston girl in 1912…

In the latter film, she rebels in a fairly respectful way against the loving stodginess of her father, and he ultimately gives his seal of approval to her love for a young literature professor who—horror of horrors!—is not from Boston…

Not a great film, but an enjoyable one, and Peggy was feisty and intriguing. Apparently she got this part (according to Robert Osborne’s intro on TCM) when 20th Century Fox decided to replace Cummins in the coveted lead role in 1947’s highly anticipated costume drama, Forever Amber (a film I still have yet to see). Osborne said the studio felt she looked too “young” to play the ambitious 17th century wench Amber, but I wonder if that was reason…maybe Cummins would have been a little too intense in the role, perhaps too richly real? Linda Darnell, no slouch herself in the allure department, replaced her, but after seeing Cummins in both Apley and Gun Crazy, I gotta wonder what coulda been…

She also made an intriguing mystery thriller called Moss Rose in 1947, in which she played a Victorian chorus girl. I saw this a few years ago on a tape somebody made for me from a tv broadcast. I don’t think it’s on DVD yet…I remember it was twisty and atmospheric, and I wish I could remember where I put the cassette so I could rewatch it!

A part Peggy would have been wonderful in would be that of the unpredictable, manipulative, yet ultimately poignant prostitute in an adaptation of Patrick Hamilton’s trilogy of short, interconnected novels about London lowlife about 1930, Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, one of the finest books I’ve read in recent years…it tells the story of a doomed triangle between a would-be writer/waiter, a streetwalker, and a barmaid. Hamilton was the author of the plays on which the classic films Gaslight and Rope were based, but I think his novels are even more impressive. Check out his novel Hangover Square, too, which was made into a good movie which nonetheless was not very faithful to the book.

Anyway, the point I finally want to make is this. These fine actresses of yesteryear like Peggy Cummins immediately get me scrambling over to the computer to find out what else I can see them in. I don’t feel that way at all about contemporary actresses, although I am somewhat curious to see what January Jones and Christina Hendricks of AMC’s Mad Men do apart from that show…

I think part of the problem is that the films today just don’t have the kinds of rich stories that pull me in and make me want to plunk down twelve bucks for a ticket. So it’s not just that I prefer the actresses of long ago, but that the stories they were presented in are more to my liking in their variety, their tone, and their subject matter. Or maybe it’s the promotion of today’s films; maybe the stories are just as good, but the advertising doesn’t make me feel intrigued enough to find out. There is no alluring ballyhoo to pull me into the theaters…unless I’m supposed to be intrigued by an actress’s upcoming film because People magazine says she’s “dating” some football stud-muffin or riding some rock star schlong.

All I know is that after watching Peggy in The Late George Apley, I wanted more. And here’s a nice leg shot that I found, to keep me entertained until I turn up more of her films…

Just a healthy dose of good old-fashioned cheesecake!

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I found the great screen captures of Peggy and John, and Peggy sharp-shooting, at writer Chris Orcutt’s interesting site; and Peggy’s leg shot at the always vivid Starlet Showcase.

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