A lot of cinephiles have an unsung and frequently unseen director (or several) from classical Hollywood that they cherish and champion. Quentin Tarantino has William Witney, you can find advocates for George Sherman or Hugo Fregonese (The Raid is a masterpiece!), myself I like to pump up John Brahm or possibly even Charles Marquis Warren from time to time. My friend Damien swears by a handful of Howard W. Koch-helmed films he's seen. Today, I watched Shield for Murder (1954), co-directed by Koch and Edmund O'Brien, also one of the stars.
In commercial cinema, some of the real gold mines come when an industry starts putting out relatively low- or modestly-budgeted material in a particular genre or vein that they know will turn a modest, steady profit, and which they won't have to invest too much planning or publicity into. Because of the (comparatively) low cost and low risk of such programmers, there's often less supervision from the "suits," and hence less interference with the creative talent on the set. Quite often you'll wind up with several talented people able to shake the formula up, aesthetically as well as thematically. Not "subversive" per se, it's still ultimately a product by elite interests for mass consumption just like every other industry film, and too much deviation from the prescribed, commercial(ist) norms will see the people responsible penalized and discouraged ... but there's enough potential material in there to show a system's cracks, and to show individual agency and opinion, in a way that big-budget committee works simply can't replicate. For the aesthete (who may also be a politically conscious observer), this is where the brilliant personal touches of B-movie auteurism come in. For the politically conscious observer (who may also be an aesthete), this is where standard representations are tweaked or sometimes altogether overturned, where indictments of The System or, more likely, some of its constituent parts are made (because, anthropomorphically speaking, these types of films are where The System speaks quietly, discreetly out of the side of its mouth). Low-budget Hollywood genre movies (noirs, westerns, melodramas, etc.) are only one example of this sort of potentiality in commercial cinema--there are comparable areas in the Italian genres of the 1960s and '70s (which I know less well), or Japanese erotic movies of the same period and later (less well still), or possibly the recent spate of low-to-medium-budget Hollywood horror films (almost totally ignorant of).
Shield for Murder is a great illustration of this tendency. The police force is largely crooked; one character in the film (a journalist) indicates why when he mentions the low pay and the lure of authority & impunity that tempt these working class goons to grab a better life for them & theirs. One of the main characters in the film is Barney (co-director O'Brien), a veteran cop and "pistol expert" whose self-proclaimed "wild shots" are known to ruthlessly, conveniently bump off small-time bookies and Mexicans. We see him find fiancée at a men's club where she starts a new job selling cigarettes in a skimpy outfit; he's furious and takes her away; he later takes her to see the house he plans to buy with the dirty money he's stolen off a bookie: it's furnished in grand 1950s middle-class style, with a great convenient kitchen (and what looked vaguely like a Buddha statuette--an orientalist consumer touch?). Through watching the film we gather very clearly that Barney is a racist, sexist, aggressive individual, and that his corruption suggests a lot of the thin blue line ... but neither does the film ascribe all of these flaws to simple personal moral failure or character evil (plus, he's shown to be a bit of an avuncular figure with troubled young men); it makes clear that these are the products of a certain amount of societal and economic hardship, and the privilege given to someone of Barney's stratum to "advance" at the expense of those even further below him--the more "expendable," the lumpen--petty crooks or Mexicans. There's a fantastic bit of parallel editing when Barney shows the home to his fiancée, and she walks around admiring the amenities while he escapes to the backyard to check in on his buried stash of money, a bit of work in the general direction of Eisenstein to indicate a material (and violent, dishonest) substrate to middle-class comfort and luxury.
(By the way, a type of product placement that I'd never noticed before--when one of the good cops has to call the fiancée about the model home, he asks who furnished it, and Patty says, "I don't know--Kling, I think." The credits reveal that a company named Kling indeed did furnish the model home!)
There's another interesting scene where a worldly blonde meets Barney in a bar; he doesn't respond to her advances, so she tells him "You know what your problem is? You want to be bad, but you don't know how." So they look in the mirror across the bar and she tells him how to hold his cigarette and narrow his eyes appropriately. If it were in a 2007 neo-retro-noir there would be obligatory references from critics about the "postmodernity" of such an instance. But such is the problem with presentist film appreciation--usually when people talk about post-1960s genre cinema as being fundamentally more violent, critical, subversive, skeptical, or self-aware than the earlier genre examples it usually just means the person doesn't know the classical stuff very well yet and has just bought what other "authorities" (authorities who wish to sell their companies' new products!) tell them.
I hope I'm not overselling the film; I don't think it's a masterpiece, it's not going to change anyone's life or bring down capitalism or anything nearly so impressive. But it is an example of how "Hollywood" doesn't always believe all the myths ascribed to "it" (i.e., the monolith doesn't exist; it's a system in which agents comply or rebel to varying extents); how the slightly autonomous, less-guarded sectors of an industry can and will burp up varying degrees of aesthetic experimentation (hence possibly beauty) and sociopolitical skepticism (hence also possibly critique) ...