Steven Van Zandt can't remember when he saw his first gangster movie. "They were always on TV when I was growing up," says the E Street Band guitarist and star of the addictive Norwegian mob drama Lilyhammer, which returns to Netflix on December 13th. "You'd see gangster movies, westerns and horror movies. It's a wonder we turned out the way we did. . . Those movies completely shaped how the world sees the mob. They also take you into another world. What's realistic doesn't even matter. All that matters is whether or not they convince you." Now, to celebrate the new season of Lilyhammer, Van Zandt shares his favorite mob movies. —Andy Greene
"Along with Little Caesar and Scarface, Enemy was one of the first gangster movies ever made, and it has that classic James Cagney scene where he squashes a grapefruit into Mae Clarke's face. Most movies from this era were very quiet – though I guess King Kong was an exception. There was still a theatrical element to the filmmaking process. There wasn't a big score throughout the movie, but those things would become normal elements by the end of the 1930s. The early 1930s movies were just a bit quieter and very, very intense. It really makes you appreciate the beginnings of this genre."
"This is maybe my favorite movie of all time. It's the ultimate James Cagney role. He plays Rocky Sullivan and Pat O'Brien plays Jerry Connolly. They're kids fooling around, stealing things, and they're running from the police when Pat gets gets caught by the cops and Rocky makes it over a fence. They meet up later in life and Pat is a priest trying to gets these juvenile delinquents away from a life of crime. Cagney, of course, becomes their hero. The ending is one of the greatest scenes in film history – Cagney winds up in a shoot out with the cops and he's sent to the electric chair."
"Before he goes, O'Brien says to him, 'Listen, when you go to the chair, do me a favor. . . You're a hero to these kids. Please, turn yellow and play chicken when you're walking down there.' It's a big macho thing for these criminals to go to the chair with dignity, so Cagney says, 'Are you kidding? That's the last thing I have left.' He refuses to do it. But as he's going, they show in the shadows that he breaks down on the way to the chair. It's fucking intense. He makes his last gesture for the kids and for his friend."
"This is the last movie that James Cagney did with Humphrey Bogart. It's fantastic. The two of them were in the army together in World War I but they end up going their separate ways. Cagney ends up starting his own cab company and Bogart becomes a criminal. Cagney loses everything in the Wall Street crash and he falls out with Bogart. Along the way, he falls in love with a nightclub singer and she doesn't love him. It's a great story."
"Where do I begin with The Godfather? It's like explaining why the Bible is so popular. I'll always remember seeing the first one because it was the only time I went to the movies with my grandfather. It was mind-boggling. That's partly because of the impact of not knowing who any of the actors were. The only actor anyone knew was Marlon Brando, and he was completely unrecognizable. Most of the other characters were new, which made it all so real. Some of them you thought, 'These can't be actors. It's too real.'"
"The acting, the script, the cinematography, the book. . . It was all brilliant. The book is one of the most underrated books ever. The way Mario Puzo told the story became as influential to future mobsters as it was talking about the past. Literally, mobsters would watch how this movie to learn how to do it – how to have honor and how the drug trade ended the rule of the mob by making the sentences too much to take. Suddenly everyone started ratting each other out. This was all a new idea, as was the whole family thing. You have two families: the one at home and the one at work."
"It's Part II in the truest sense of the word (and in a way that Part III wasn't). Parts I and II came from the book, and it introduced the young Corleone played so brilliantly by Robert De Niro. They're two of the greatest movies ever, as far as I'm concerned."
"In my mind, it's always easier to do a sequel than an original. I'm always surprised when a sequel is not as good or better than the first one. I never understand that. You've already set your own bar. You've already done the hard work. It should be easier to make the second one, but a lot of the times it's not. In the case of The Godfather, it was a wonderful, amazing sequel."