Perspective | At the Movies Part 2: Insurance Meets Satire

By: | March 1, 2019

Roger Crombie is a United Kingdom-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at [email protected]

Risk & Insurance® recently published online a lengthy list I compiled of fake insurance companies invented for use in the movies. A reader asked me to name my favorite insurance movie.

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Leading candidates include Double Indemnity (1944), director Billy Wilder’s noir murder and insurance fraud, Lloyds of London (1936), which portrays without an apostrophe the growth of Lloyd’s; Risk (2000), which casts an Australian insurance adjuster into a web of lies; and Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936), containing the most fake insurance companies in any film ever made and features a Busby Berkeley life insurance song (“You’ll get pie in the sky / when you die, die die, / if you buy, buy, buy / life insurance.”)

My favorite of all is Bulworth (1988), written and directed by lead actor Warren Beatty. The IMDb snippet: “A suicidal disillusioned liberal politician puts a contract out on himself and takes the opportunity to be bluntly honest with his voters by affecting the rhythms and speech of hip-hop music and culture.”

Bulworth is an acerbic, dark, romantic satire, with a murder mystery thrown in. Race, economic disparity and the rottenness of modern society are main themes. A greedy, corrupt and murderous insurance industry personifies the villainous establishment.

The device that propels the movie is proposed legislation that would force insurers “to sell to poor people.” In the view of Graham Crockett (played by Paul Sorvino), president of trade group The American Insurance Federation, black people lack the character necessary to deserve insurance.

My favorite insurance quote from a movie comes from the greatest wit who ever lived: Groucho Marx, as an insurance salesman in A Night at the Opera (1935): “I have here an accident policy that will absolutely protect you no matter what happens. If you lose a leg, we help you look for it.”

If you opt to watch it, a few advisories: Almost continuous really bad language. Offensive political views. Unusual humor. Drug abuse. Children with guns. A little too much truth for some. Worst of all, by far, anti-magazine rhetoric.

I rate this movie so highly despite the way it disrespects the insurance industry, which is almost a given in movie circles. Insurance companies in films, or their employees, are almost always bad news.

A few examples should suffice:

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Jeff Goldblum’s character John C. Nolan Jr., in Beyond Suspicion (2000): “I sell life insurance. You know what that means? That I kind of bamboozle people with a lot of mumbo-jumbo.”

Jimmy Stewart’s accountant, Standish, in The Flight of the Phoenix (1956): “Insurance companies move in mysterious ways. Like God, of course, but not half as generous.”

William Gingrich, Walter Matthau’s character in The Fortune Cookie (1966): “You feel sorry for insurance companies? They got so much money, they don’t know what to do with it. They’ve run out of storage space; they have to microfilm it.”

My favorite insurance quote from a movie comes from the greatest wit who ever lived: Groucho Marx, as an insurance salesman in A Night at the Opera (1935): “I have here an accident policy that will absolutely protect you no matter what happens. If you lose a leg, we help you look for it.” &

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