The Meanest Men In The West may “star” Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin and Sam Fuller may be credited as being one of the film’s two directors but don’t make the same mistake that I made. Don’t get too excited.
There was once a TV western called The Virginian. Starring James Drury as a ranch foreman, The Virginian ran for nine seasons on NBC. A 1962 episode, which was written and directed by Sam Fuller, featured Lee Marvin as a sadistic outlaw who kidnapped The Virginian’s employer, a judge played by Lee J. Cobb. Five years later, another episode features Charles Bronson as a less sadistic outlaw who kidnapped the Judge’s daughter.
The Meanest Men In The West mixes scenes from those two episode with western stock footage, a bank robbery that originally appeared in The Return of Frank James, an intrusive voice-over, and an almost incoherent prologue, all in order to tell an entirely new story. Now, Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin are brothers and rivals. After Marvin snitches on Bronson’s plan to rob a bank, Bronson blames his former friend, The Virginian. In order to get the Virginian to come to his hideout, Bronson kidnaps Cobb’s daughter. The Virginian manages to convince Bronson that he didn’t betray him, just to arrive back at the ranch and discover that Cobb has been kidnapped. Meanwhile, Bronson and his gang set off after Marvin and his gang. It ends with Charles Bronson, in 1967, shooting at Lee Marvin, who is still in 1962.
The Meanest Men In The West is so clumsily edited that the same shot of Charles Bronson holding a gun is spliced into a dozen different scenes. Filmed on different film stocks, the Bronson scenes and the Marvin scenes look nothing alike and, since the two episodes were filmed five years apart, James Drury literally ages backwards over the course of the film.
The Meanest Men In The West is for Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin completists only. I think Bronson and Marvin are two of the coolest individuals who ever existed and even I had a hard time making it through this one. If you do watch it, keep an eye out for a young Charles Grodin, thoroughly miscast as a tough outlaw.