Public Defender (1954–1955)

The Arsonist 

A disturbed teen-aged boy begins setting fires in the neighborhood following an altercation with his father.


Paul Guilfoyle


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Episode cast overview:
Reed Hadley ... Bart Matthews
Catherine McLeod ... Ellen Higgins
Dwayne Hickman ... Kenny Higgins
Walter Coy ... Jim Higgins
John Close ... Cop
Bing Russell ... 2nd Cop
Burt Mustin ... Otis
Ken Miller ... Hot Dog Man (as Kenny Miller)
Vernon Rich ... Fire Lieutenant
Margaret Bert Margaret Bert ... Old Lady
Harry Evans Harry Evans ... Old Man


Jim Higgens is arrested for beating his teen-aged son Kenny in public and Bart Matthews is assigned to defend him against the felonious assault charge. He learns that Jim is a first offender but curiously unwilling to provide much information that would be useful to his defense. The attorney questions Kenny and Jim's wife Ellen and eventually learns that Kenny resents the kind-hearted Ellen, who is actually his stepmother. He also learns that Kenny was severely affected by his mother's death and that he is interested in chemistry. In particular, he is fond of handling caustic chemicals and performing experiments involving fire. When several mysterious fires break out in the Higgens' neighborhood, the cause becomes obvious to Jim and he decides to punish his son severely for the misdeeds. The Public Defender's office must work to get the charge against Jim dismissed while arranging for the psychiatric treatment essential for the disturbed Kenny. Written by Sam Spear

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Crime | Drama

User Reviews

Far from subtle and very simplistic
7 August 2016 | by MartinHaferSee all my reviews

"The Arsonist" is an episode of "Public Defender" that is seriously flawed in that it takes a very complex problem and makes it seem simple. Likewise, it's far from subtle!

When the show begins, Mr. Higgens is getting arrested for beating his son, Kenny (Dwayne Hickman). Oddly, when the police talk to him, the father offers no explanation and basically says he can do as he wants with the teen! When the Public Defender (Reed Hadley) goes to talk to Mr. Higgens, once again he has very little to say...other than fathers can discipline their kids any way they want. Naturally, the Public Defender is NOT about to just drop the case or plead the man guilty and so he investigates and comes up with an amazingly simplistic answer...the kid's an arsonist and the reasons are simple and obvious. Yeah, right.

I think the show was well intentioned, but over the years therapists have learned much more about kids who start fires. I used to work with such a population and the show today comes off as silly and overly simplistic. Worth watching...but really ridiculous.

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Release Date:

27 September 1954 (USA) See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Hal Roach Studios See more »
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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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