BEST OF THE BADMEN is the title of a 1951 RKO Western film starring Robert Ryan and a whole herd of the character actors who are the subject of the book under consideration here. Bob Nareau and Bobby Copeland have obviously spent a good deal of time striving to dig up biographical information on around 300 (!) often very obscure actors who worked in films from about 1929 to the early 1950s, and at times could still be seen in many filmed 30-minute Western TV series broadcast from 1956 on to the mid to late 1970s. Some of these actors, in consequence, had movie careers that spanned 50 years! As I understand the division of labor, the actual text was mainly written by Boyd Magers, who also supplied the many stills.
The actors generally form two groups, with some overlaps. There are the actors who began in films in the silent era, often playing lead roles, then shifted to character parts when talkies came in, typically vanishing in the late 1940s, and then there are the actors who began in films after WW II and made a fairly smooth transition to TV Westerns, vanishing only when the Western series also vanished from network TV. Problems with alcohol, other self-destructive behavior, and various personal tragedies, befell many of them. Life-spans as short as 40 or 50 years were not too unusual. And as you can surmise from the title, all of these actors made some mark playing "the bad guy," usually in B-western films. There are actually three categories of bad guy in the B-western. There's the "brains heavy" or "dress heavy," who wears a suit and often a pencil mustache. He's the banker or lawyer or mayor or crooked sheriff or wealthy rancher who has evil designs on the hero and heroine. There's the "non-com heavy," who takes his orders from the dress heavy, and there's his gang, a gaggle of five or ten "dog heavies" who do the dirty work. Even a fairly low budget B-western thus offered parts to up to a dozen character actors who could project or personify villainy.
So what you are getting here is usually short (often three or so paragraph) biographies of each of these generally unsung actors, and also for each, a short list of films, a "suggested sampling" of their heavy roles. If that's what you want and expect, you'll get it and consider your circa $40 well spent.
However, the book has some defects, and with due respect, I haven't seen such problems previously in the books or articles I have seen by any one of the three authors working solo. Have too many cooks spoiled the broth? I won't try to guess, but here are the problems that will annoy many potential readers to a greater or lesser degree.
(1) Poor photos. Poor photo reproduction is a problem with quite a few Empire Publishing efforts I have seen, but it's worse here than usual. Photos tend to be washed-out, fuzzed-out contrastless arrays of blobs. Example: on facing pages 214-215, good old Kermit Maynard has one eye and one nostril but the rest of his facial features must be guessed at, and Lew Meehan has only a hint of a mustache and a hint of a lipline, nothing else. Since many potential readers of the book will not know the actor's name and try to recognize him from his photo, the photo choices often present a real obstacle. I would never recognize Robert Wilke from the snapshot of him on p. 307.
(2) Odd omissions. For example, the entry on Robert Barrat completely omits any discussion of his B-western career, though that is the whole point of having an entry for him. It simply jumps right from the point where he makes his first Western, directly to his death 35 years later.
(3) Not written in english. A far-too-typical sentence, from p. 133: "Taken out of school at 15, the family covered the East Coast racing circuits." Almost every third or fourth sentence in the book has this structure, and very frequently it is a structure that is completely broken, a total grammatical trainwreck. Too often the break is not just annoying, but actually confusing, as terrible grammar generally is. For example, on p. 73, "Born July 29, 1888, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, his father, James Chesebro, was from Connecticut and his mother, Margaret Grant, was a native of Kentucky." It was the subject of the entry, George Chesebro, who was born in 1888, not his father!
I also encountered some really confusing misprints or suspect arithmetic. For example James Coburn was "born 1928" but "at 60, in 1978," was felled by arthritis. Numbers are also a problem when the authors casually refer to a given actor as "one of the five best," or "one of the ten best" screen heavies... with usually no hint whatsoever as to who were the other four, or other nine! On a personal note I was surprised to find actors who stood 6' 2" and weighed 190 pounds described as "hulking brutes." Things must have changed a bit because I stand 6' 2" and weigh about 190 pounds and I look like good old Wally Cox!
On this same page you should also find the standard non-review by "Mr. Jim," which just transcribes the table of contents and dust jacket or cover blurbs, and moves on to the next item, just as do all of his other 1,500 (or whatever the total is now) "reviews," so I won't need to get into that.