The opening scene of the film sets the tone. Claire Marrable (Page) is recently widowed and at the funeral, she frantically removes flowers from her husband's coffin, while eerie music plays in the background. A few days later, details of her husband's will is revealed by the junior partner of a law firm (The Bob Newhart Show's Peter Bonerz, in one of his first roles): her husband made bad investments and left nothing to her except a briefcase, a butterfly collection and a stamp collection; the home itself, and the furnishings in it, apparently have no redeemable value. Marrable goes ballistic, smashing the butterfly collection to smithereens and then tearfully frets about what lies in her future. At the lawyer's prodding, she remembers that she has a distant nephew in New Mexico or Arizona.
Forward a few months: Marrable is comfortably ensconced in a ranch home outside Tucson, Arizona. She has a penchant for successfully growing pine trees, even out in the hot desert. She lives with a housekeeper, Miss Tinsley (Dunnock). One evening, Miss Tinsley asks Marrable for an update on the stocks she has purchased through Marrable; this upsets Marrable, who threatens immediately to sell the stocks, even at a loss, to rid herself, and the housekeeper, of the anxiety. Upon arrival of a new pine tree from a nursery, Marrable demands that Miss Tinsley go out in the cool night to help her plant the tree. When the two women arrive at the recently dug hole for the tree, Marrable throws her watch in the hole and asks Miss Tinsley to jump in the hole to retrieve it. When the housekeeper has found the watch, Marrable grabs a shovel and whacks the housekeeper over the head, then buries her in the hole, using the pine tree as a testament to her latest conquest. A long shot of the garden shows a series of four pine trees, each in different stages of growth, suggesting this process has been repeated many times.