Silent Movie Bookshelf: The Bad Guys, A Pictorial History of the Movie Villain by William K. Everson

Everybody loves a good villain and this book covers movie villains from the silent era through the 1960s. Best of all, it is written by William K. Everson, who was one of the most assertive defenders of silent movies during the mid-century dark age.

This 1964 book is an oversized hardcover (though paperback versions are available). It is completely out of print and but there are a great many copies available for as little as a few dollars. I highly recommend seeking out hardcover as oversized paperbacks tend to pull themselves apart if you read them more than a few times.

What is it?: A book dedicated to movie villains. Rather than organizing it by era or by star, Everson chose to sort it by villain type. So we have a chapter on Master Criminals, one for Psychos, another for Western Outlaws, etc. It is a clever way of sorting the information and makes it easy to read about the type of villain you are interested in.

Sample page

Unlike many books of this type, the silent era villains are given equal attention. Everson even goes one better by explaining why some villains were more popular in sound and others reigned in silence.

Warning: My to-watch list is bursting at the seams thanks to this book and I think yours will be too.

Pictures: Tons of movie stills included, from both silent films and talkies and with thorough captioning.

Sample page
Sample page

Writing Style: Everson’s opinionated, persnickety prose is another selling point for this book. He takes occasional swipes at 1960s whippersnappers and their aggressive, unladylike heroines. It’s grand fun to read. I don’t always agree with Everson but I always like to read his thoughts on all things cinematic.

This book is perfect for reading or browsing. I consider it an ideal addition to any movie fan’s bookshelf.


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  1. Joe Thompson

    i received a copy of that book for Christmas one year. I spent many long hours reading the text and studying the photos. William K Everson wrote with style.

  2. Scott Lueck

    I own quite a few of these early pictorial/historical film books from the fifties and sixties, and I love them (Kalton Lahue is a particular favorite of mine). As long as you take into account that some of the research may be outdated, they’re a good source of primary info on early films, easy reads, and generally loaded with great pictures. To me they’re an welcome break from some of the more academic books I tend to read, and a pleasant way to spend a snowy Saturday afternoon.

    You’ll want to keep your phone handy, because you’ll wind up googling movie titles thinking “is that one available to view?”

  3. Kathy Harper

    Bill Everson was a tremendously talented writer-scholar and this is one of his most enjoyable books. It’s always insightful, sometimes funny, and generally acerbic, rather like the man himself.

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