NEW YORK — Peggy Cummins, a Welsh-born stage and film actress who worked just a few years in Hollywood but left behind an indelible performance as the lethal, beret-wearing robber in the noir classic ‘‘Gun Crazy,’’ died Dec. 29 in London at age 92.
Her friend Dee Kirkwood said she died of a stroke.
A child star in England, Ms. Cummins was not yet 20 when brought to the United States in 1945 by studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck to play the title role in an adaptation of one of the decade’s raciest novels, ‘‘Forever Amber.’’ The petite blonde was passed over in favor of Linda Darnell, reportedly because she was too young, but Ms. Cummins was of age for ‘‘Gun Crazy,’’ which came out in 1950.
The low-budget ‘‘Gun Crazy’’ was directed by Joseph H. Lewis and secretly co-written by the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo, who devised a tale of sex and violence and of love destroyed by greed.
Ms. Cummins played Annie Laurie Starr, a sharpshooter in a traveling carnival who hooks up with a local marksman, Bart Tare, played by John Dall. Tare is a former reform school student who wants to go straight, but Starr shames (and seduces) him into a life of crime, telling him: ‘‘I want things, a lot of things, big things.’’ His reluctance to fire a gun is more than compensated by her willingness to kill anyone.
‘‘I told Peggy, ‘You’re a female dog in heat, and you want him. But don’t let him have it in a hurry. Keep him waiting,’’’ Lewis later explained.
The film’s erotic energy and documentary style made it a cult favorite, with admirers including French New Wave directors Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. In the mid-1960s, when writers David Newman and Robert Benton were trying to sell a synopsis for what became ‘‘Bonnie and Clyde,’’ Truffaut arranged a screening of ‘‘Gun Crazy’’ and suggested it as inspiration. In 1998, the Library of Congress selected ‘‘Gun Crazy’’ for preservation for being ‘‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.’’
Ms. Cummins made just a handful of American movies, including ‘‘Escape’’ and ‘‘The Late George Apley,’’ before returning to England in 1950. She briefly dated then-aspiring politician John F. Kennedy and was asked out by Howard Hughes, only to have the wealthy aviator crash his plane and cancel their dinner plans. Back in England, she married William Herbert Derek Dunnett and remained with him until his death in 2000. They had two children.
The most notable of her later movies was the horror favorite ‘‘Night of the Demon’’ (also known as ‘‘Curse of the Demon”), featuring Ms. Cummins as the niece of a psychologist whose investigation of a satanic cult leads to fatal consequences. Her final film, ‘‘In the Doghouse,’’ came out in 1962.