A Modern Hero

A Modern Hero is a 1934 American pre-Code romance drama film starring Richard Barthelmess and directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst. It is based on the novel with the same title by Louis Bromfield. It was Pabst's only American talking film.[1]

A Modern Hero
Film poster
Directed byGeorg Wilhelm Pabst
Written byLouis Bromfield
Gene Markey
Kathryn Scola
StarringRichard Barthelmess
CinematographyWilliam Rees
Edited byJames Gibbon
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • April 21, 1934 (1934-04-21)
Running time
71 minutes
CountryUnited States


When a French circus comes to a small Illinois town, resident Joanna Ryan (Jean Muir) becomes pregnant by horse trick rider Pierre Radier (Richard Barthelmess). He offers to marry her, but she decides they are not suited for each other. Instead, she marries steady local Elmer Croy. Pierre gives her all his money for their child.

Pierre hates the circus life, so when his friend Henry Mueller (Hobart Cavanaugh) approaches him to become his partner in a bicycle shop, he jumps at the chance to establish a new life in the United States, despite the disapproval of his alcoholic mother, Madame Azais (Marjorie Rambeau). To raise his share of the money needed to start the venture, he turns to wealthy young widow Leah Ernst (Florence Eldridge), who is attracted to him.

The shop is a success, but Pierre's ambitions are only whetted. He persuades his partner to branch out into newfangled automobiles. They spend several years building a new car. By a stroke of luck, the automobile of Homer Flint (Arthur Hohl), the richest man in the state, breaks down near their shop. He is interested in mass-producing their car. Pierre becomes a hardworking business partner of Flint's and becomes engaged to Flint's daughter, Hazel (Dorothy Burgess).

One day, when the couple goes golfing, Pierre, now an American citizen calling himself Paul Rader, discovers that the young boy who wants to caddy for him is his son, Pierre Croy. Pual begins a relationship with the boy as a benefactor. Later, with his marriage unhappy and childless, Paul asks to adopt Pierre. Joanna flatly refuses but consents to allowing Paul to finance Pierre's education at an elite boarding school once Pierre is older.

Years later, on a trip to New York to escort Pierre to his new school, Paul starts an affair with Lady Claire Benston (Verree Teasdale). Yearning for complete financial independence from Flint, Paul gives his entire fortune to a shady stock speculator to manipulate Rader and Flint company stock. Flint finds out and warns him that he is getting into trouble, to no avail. Paul moves forward to his plan; he reveals to Pierre that he is Pierre's father and the two look forward to a future in business together.

It all comes crashing down. The stock speculator turns out to be a swindler and absconds with all of Paul's money and $70,000 of Lady Benston's, prompting her to want nothing further to do with him. Paul is also devastated to learn that his son has been killed in a car crash, the car being a birthday gift from him. When he brings the body to the grieving mother, she refuses to shake his hand. Finally, Paul's marriage ends as Hazel learns of Pierre's parentage and declares that she's glad he is dead. Ruined and heartsick, Paul seeks out his mother. She comforts him, telling him that he has finally learned what is important and that he can make a fresh start back in Europe. He is heartened by her faith in him.



  1. Gussow, Mel. "NY Times: A Modern Hero". The New York Times. Retrieved September 12, 2009.
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