Bette Davis wasn't really a pre-code actress, as you were saying. However, she was just starting out and great in Three on a Match, Of Human Bondage, The Rich are Always With Us, etc. She even had a small part in the original Waterloo Bridge. Barb. Stanwyck was teriffic in Baby Face, Shopworn, and Ever in My Heart, etc She and Bette moved on to become wonderful legends!
I love Ruth Chatterton's films, particularly Dodsworth, Frisco Jenny, THe Rich Are Always With Us, Madame X, etc. In each of these films she is marvelous! I just recalled Journal of a Crime which was also a great film with her. The denouement is quite unique, for her character seems to have escaped punishment for a murder.
Loretta Young was wonderful in her pre-code films. Employee's Entrance, Midnight Mary, Zoo in Budapest, etc. I think Loretta had a sweet and sensitive magic. Her acting style changed in the 40's and 50's, but I think she was wonderful in dramas primarily. Cause for Alarm and The Stranger were splendidly acted; just a couple of her masterpieces.
Though I love her dramas more than comedies, Half Angel '51 with Loretta and Joseph Cotten is something special to see and hear! This story of a hospital nurse and a free spirited girl searching for "Mr. Right" is a joy to behold! She meets Joseph and they start dating right away; going to a carnival, out to dinner, etc. He spends much of his time entranced by her beauty and personality. The color is just beautiful and Loretta shines singing the poignant Castles in the Sand. She is wearing a gorgeous deep green sequined gown in this role and is sitting at her dressing table -- serenading Joseph Cotten's character, Of course he is transfixed by her beauty and talent. This all takes place late at night. (He is not aware of her other personality; an efficient and caring nurse).
Well we love many of the same actress of the era. I was introduced to studio-era movies by the Bogart, Cagney, E.G. Robinson films of the 30s and 40s while they were under contract at Warner Brothers. One day I saw Marked Women (a 1937 Davis \ Bogie picture), and this lead me to more of the WB Davis pictures. So many movies, so little time!