8 Great Suspense Movies That Revolve Around Life Insurance (Seriously)

July 25, 2012 by Staff Writer at Lifeinsurance.org

You probably consider life insurance, or any kind of insurance for that matter, a pretty dull topic and certainly not one worthy of a great suspense film. But consider the plots and characters that recur in several classic films, especially those from the era of film noir. In addition to a femme fatale and a dead body (usually the femme fatale’s schmuck of a husband), there’s almost always a clever (or sometimes not-so-clever) insurance agent among the cast, either trying to figure out who killed who or, just as often, scrambling to cover up a crime the femme fatale convinced him to commit. If the following films are any indication, crime doesn’t pay, unless the victim has an insurance policy.  To read the original posting on lifeinsurance.org click here.

8. The Last Seduction (1994):

In the 1994 film The Last Seduction, the femme fatale, played by Linda Fiorentino, frames her small-town hick lover Mike (played by Peter Berg) for murder , sprays a can of insecticide into the mouth of her drug-dealing ex-lover, and ultimately, gets away with one or two murders and plenty of cash. From the very beginning Berg’s character, who works at a small insurance company (what is it with these guys?), ignores more than a few obvious red flags for the thrill of getting it on with the white-hot Fiorentino. Her character is the smartest and meanest person in the film.

 

7. Sleuth (1972):

Sleuth stars the iconic Sir Laurence Olivier as an upper-class mystery writer who invites a hairdresser with working-class roots, played by Michael Caine, to his theater prop-filled home. He tells Caine, who he knows is having an affair with his wife, he’s sick of his wife and wants his help staging a burglary in his home that would leave Caine with her jewelry and Olivier with a big, fat insurance payment. And yep, given the fact this is Laurence Olivier, one of the 20th century’s greatest stage and film actors, you might not be surprised when you discover he’s setting Caine up. However, Caine’s character turns the tables on Sir Olivier in an unexpected way.

 

6. A Life At Stake (1954):

Obscure classic or an unintentionally hilarious parade of bad acting and even worse dialogue? Even as a so-so example of film noir, A Life At Stake does manage to put a new spin on what was, by 1954, the thoroughly regurgitated tale of an unhappy wife (played by Angela Lansbury) convincing her not-too-sharp lover (played by Keith Andes) to bump off her no-fun husband. The twist here is that Andes character, an architect and builder hired by her and her husband as part of a three-way business venture, is named in a key person insurance policy that will pay the married couple $175,000 if he dies. Read before signing is the lesson here, folks.

 

5. Roadblock (1951):

In the rarely seen noir classic Roadblock, a hard-boiled insurance investigator (played by Charles DeGraw) falls for a brunette bombshell played by Joan Dixon and conspires to commit a crime that, in an ironic turn of events, he’s later called upon to investigate. Dixon’s character is initially a vamp, but ends up actually falling for DeGraw, even though he believes she’ll dump him for someone with a lot more money. His romantic if somewhat self-pitying scene with Dixon after breaking into her place to decorate a Christmas tree is a classic.

 

 

4. Strange Bargain (1949):

“Hey, how was your weekend?” “Pretty good, boss! Thanks for asking.” “That’s a nice suit.” “Thanks! It’s one of three cheap suits I own. They’re all identical!” “How do you like your job? Are you liking the company?” “Oh, it’s swell. I love working here.” “Great. By the way, you’re fired.” “What???” “Yep. I’ve run this company into the ground! Ruined everything. Everyone is getting fired. And I’m going to blow my brains out. However, the life insurance I have won’t pay out if I commit suicide. And I’m worried about my family. So can you come by my place, say after dinner, and make sure my suicide looks like a murder?” “But you have so much to live for!” “Whatever. I’ll give you $10,000 to do it. And by the way, you’re still fired.” “Oh! Well, okay. I’ll do it. Even though it’s a strange bargain, what could possibly go wrong??”

 

3. The Killers (1946):

Despite the fact that the short story by Ernest Hemingway that The Killers is based on makes no mention of insurance, the scriptwriters chose to make the lead a brave, no-nonsense insurance investigator (played by Edmond O’Brien), who is called upon to figure out why Burt Lancaster’s character, known as “the Swede,” passively allowed himself to be executed by two killers. The backstory of “the Swede,” told through a series of flashbacks, includes committing a robbery with the help of a gangster’s moll played by the lovely Ava Gardner. Thanks to films like The Killers, investigating insurance claims must have appeared as exciting to audiences as deep sea fishing or big game hunting, which Hemingway probably found somewhat laughable

 

2. The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946):

Based on the book by Herman M. Cain, who spent a year trying to sell accident insurance before turning to journalism, screenwriting, and writing novels, The Postman Always Rings Twice features a stunning Lana Turner as a (you guessed it) unhappily married wife who seduces a drifter played by Frank Chambers and convinces him to (you guessed it again) kill her husband. Of course, in the process of making Turner’s husband’s death look like an accident, things get screwed up, and not one, not two, but a total of three insurance companies end up involved in the ensuing court case.

 

 

1. Double Indemnity (1944):

In Double Indemnity, Fred MacMurray stars as an auto insurance salesman who, after becoming involved with bored housewife Barbara Stanwyck and her wig, conspires to kill her drag of a husband, Mr. Dietrichson. The film’s title refers to a clause in a life insurance policy that doubles the payout if the death of the policy holder is caused by accidental means. We know MacMurray is screwed from the beginning, since the film opens with him confessing to his crimes into a dictaphone and delivering the immortal lines: “I killed Dietrichson! Me! Walter Neff! Insurance agent, 35 years old, unmarried, no visible scars … until a while ago that is. Yeah, I killed him. I killed him for money and a woman!”

 

 

Over the years, Hollywood has woven life insurance into movie plots on numerous occasions, almost unanimously depicting the insurance industry and agents negatively.  Insurance fraud schemes, murder plots to collect insurance proceeds, and evil corporations denying benefits to policyholders are just a few common uses of insurance in movie plots.  Review the following list of movies for their portrayal of insurance agents and companies, and examine the fairness and accuracy of such portrayal.

The Big White (2005) – This movie is about an insurance fraud scheme conjured up by travel agent, Paul Barnell.  When he finds a dead body in the snow of the Alaskan mountains, he tries to play it off as though it is the body of his missing brother, and collect the proceeds of his $1 Million life insurance policy.  This is another case of where the one committing fraud almost gets away with it, since he fools everyone, but then the insurance claims adjuster comes in and figures it out.

Alias Jesse James (1959) – This is a Bob Hope western comedy where Hope’s character, a life insurance agent, sells a $100,000 policy to outlaw Jesse James, who writes T.J. James on his application.  Jesse James describes himself as “well known in the banking and railroad industries”.  When Hope’s boss finds out, he is charged in finding Jesse James to return the policy to him, and help protect James before anything happens to him.

A Little Trip to Heaven (2005) – Forest Whitaker plays an insurance adjuster who discovers what may possibly be a couple engaged in identity theft, murder, and life insurance scams.  His job is to uncover any fraudulent activity, and protect the company’s investment.  In at least three separate scenes, he is shown in his office negotiating a payout with the beneficiaries.  On all three occasions, he is able to provide evidence of why their claim is not valid, and offers them a substantially lower payout.

Cedar Rapids (2011) Although not specifically about life insurance, the plot revolves around how small-town Iowa insurance agent Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) winds up in  “Hangover” territory when he’s dispatched to a regional insurance conference in  the “metropolis” of Cedar Rapids. Lippe’s assignment: Bring home the coveted Two  Diamond award previously won by a senior partner who recently hanged himself.  Insurance veterans Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly) and Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne  Heche) do the corrupting, but it’s Lippe who clings to his principles and  ultimately prevails, redeeming himself and the entire insurance profession.

Why it’s worthy: This entertaining sleeper may be the most list-worthy for  its optimistic answer to a central moral question facing the insurance industry  today: Can an honest, hardworking, community-minded insurance agent still make a  living without selling his or her soul? That Lippe not only survives his baptism  of fire (water) but uses his head and heart to outmaneuver his scheming  superiors makes for one happy ending worthy of applause.

 

 

 

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