In A Shallow Grave artwork created by Tarlan

In A Shallow Grave


Garnet Montrose     
Potter Daventry
Georgina Rance
Quintus Pearch
Mrs. Gondess
Michael Biehn
Patrick Dempsey
Maureen Mueller
Michael Beach
Muriel Moore


The film is based on the novel by James Purdy

Opening Scene

This takes place in Guadalcanal in 1943. It is almost 23:00 hours and the area is illuminated by a half-moon high in the sky. We see several marines keeping low but otherwise relaxed. Garnet Montrose lights a cigarette and then opens his pocket watch which plays a quiet tune. There is a picture of a beautiful woman on one side.

The quiet scene is shattered by the sound of mortars and everyone takes cover. The Japanese are attacking and Garnet fires several rounds. Another marine, carrying a flame-thrower, breaks cover and runs towards the enemy but he is shot down. As he falls, his finger squeezes on the trigger, the flame shoots out and engulfs a small group of marines - one of which is Garnet Montrose. The scene fades tot he sound of men screaming in pain.

One Year Later:

Photo 1: Garnet MontroseGarnet has returned to his Virginia home after spending many months in the Veteran's hospital. A man delivers 10 bags of seed and asks for the money - $45 - from Quintus, a coloured man, who is the hired help. Quintus tells the man that he will have to knock on the back door and collect it from Montrose as Quintus is not allowed near the house. The man is reluctant but realises he will not get paid otherwise. It becomes apparent from this scene that Garnet has become a recluse partly because he is being shunned by the community due to his disfigurement mainly as it is obvious that the delivery man knows Garnet for they are on first name terms.

We also learn that Garnet has had several other white applicants who had been hired to take care of his needs but that only Quintus had stayed on. It is also apparent that Quintus was lying about his status as he walks into the house after the delivery man has gone and talks to Garnet almost as an equal.

Garnet decides to take a walk through his property. A man comes running across the stream and bumps into Garnet but when Garnet tries to steady him the man looks at his face and screams. In the course of the ensuring one-sided conversation, Garnet asks if the man is an 'applicant' but he storms off when the man refuses to talk to him.

A little while later Garnet is sitting in his rocking chair and the man enters the house. He asks about the position of applicant, and what it entails. Garnet's response is that he doesn't want someone who is going to puke every time he looks at him. The man is relentless and Garnet gives in, offering him the work and the bedroom next to his own.

The man is Potter Daventry who says is from Utah.

That night Garnet has a nightmare where he remembers the terrible night he was burned. He awakens and goes for a walk to the Widow Rance's home, hoping to catch a glimpse of her through her window. The woman is the one in the photograph he kept in his pocket watch.

The Next Day:

Daventry has settled in fast, cooking breakfast for them both. Daventry goes to put something away in the kitchen closet and sees the marine's dress uniform jacket hanging up inside the door. It has corporal stripes and several ribbons (medals). He fingers the jacket for a moment.

Garnet makes him write a letter for him, addressed to the Widow Rance. It is a letter of introduction, to allow Georgina Rance to make acquaintance with his new messenger, Daventry. Daventry points out that Garnet's style of writing is too formal and archaic, too quaint but Garnet says this is how he is, and these are his words. Daventry finishes writing the letter and is then sent to deliver it. He does not return for some time - but he meets Quintus on the way back and they come into the house together. He tells Garnet that he was delayed by the Widow who wanted to read Garnet's letter over and over.

We discover that Garnet's health is still poor, perhaps because he does eat well. He has fainting spells.

Another night:

Garnet goes out again but this time he goes to a dilapidated dance hall, the 'Marigold Meadows'. He lights several candles that have been placed around the deserted hall and then places a record onto the gramophone and winds it up. The music starts to play and Garnet starts to dance slowly. He uses a stick to spin the revolving mirrored ball above the dance floor and continues to dance among the pinpoints of candlelight reflected from the ball.

When he awakens we find he is lying on the ridge just above the Widow's house. He watches as she comes outside to collect milk and we get the impression that she knows someone is watching her.

Another night:

Garnet has another bad dream, this time from the hospital, remembering waking up in pain, his face bandaged and the doctor telling him that he had to put the fear behind him or he would never recover. Daventry comes into his room and soothes him. They talk, and Daventry tells Garnet that the Widow Rance kissed him on the cheek when he delivered the latest letter.

Daventry goes on to tell Garnet a little more about himself, how he is on the run after killing two soldiers with their own knives. Apparently, they tried to kill him saying the world was not a big enough place for all of them. Daventry is scared that he will be found guilty of murder but Garnet insists that it sounds like self-defence, and that he will protect him.

Another Day:

Photo 2: Garnet Montrose

Mrs. Gondess, the Banker's wife, forces her way into Garnet's house demanding to speak with him. She informs him that he has not paid his land taxes despite several letters demanding immediate payment, and that his land is going to be repossessed. Garnet tells her that the Veteran's association should be paying the taxes but she will not listen. Quintus starts reading aloud and when Mrs. Gondess looks back, Garnet has disappeared. Quintus and Daventry argue with her that they cannot dispossess Garnet, a war veteran, but she is uncaring and says the mater is now out of her hands and with the courts.

When Daventry approaches Garnet later he finds that Garnet is angry. Garnet also coughs which makes Daventry even more concerned. We discover that part of Garnet's bitterness is that he has been writing to the Widow Rance for all these months and yet, not once has she responded. Daventry tells him that he is not writing what she wants to hear. Garnet tells him to dictate the next letter if he thinks he can do better. He grabs paper and pen and sits poised.

Garnet: All right, Daventry. Shoot.

Four Days Later:

Garnet is ill in bed with the doctor and Quintus in attendance. He is angry with Daventry, convinced that Daventry is having an affair with the Widow Rance. The doctor leaves. Later we see Daventry in Garnet's bedroom. He look s at the photo of a handsome, unblemished Garnet Montrose in uniform and then he opens the medal case on the dresser, gazing at the Purple Heart.

Garnet awakens and is angry and bitter, wanting to know if Daventry has spent these last four nights in the Widow's bed. Daventry describes the attentions Georgina paid to him, how she kissed and touched him, pushing his shirt off. He panicked and ran away. He tells Garnet that he has been hiding out in an old deserted dance hall.

Garnet looks shocked and upset when he hears Daventry has been in his secret place. He jumps up from the bed and tries to get away but gets tangled up in the bed sheets and topples through the open first floor window.

Photo 3: Garnet Montrose and Daventry

Daventry cries out for Quintus in shock and goes racing down the stairs, he shoves passed Quintus in terror, racing outside. Quintus follows. They reach Garnet who is sitting up.

Quintus: How did you get down here?
Daventry: He fell out of the god-damn window.

Garnet refuses Daventry's assistance, insisting that he is all right. He goes inside and sits on his rocker. Daventry is furious and calls him a monster and a god-damn fucking freak' before running out. Garnet gets up and fetches a bottle of whiskey/bourbon from the counter and offers Quintus a drink.

Later, they are helping each other climb the stairs but collapse part way. Quintus starts to talk, his tongue loosened by the alcohol.

Quintus: He don't love the widow. We followed you one night.

Quintus tells Garnet that he and Daventry followed Garnet to the deserted dance hall, that they looked through one of the windows and watched him dancing beneath the revolving ball.

Quintus: You looked like a fine, young white man.

He describes how beautiful Garnet looked with the pinpoints of light across his body and then tells Garnet that he heard Daventry say I love Garnet. Quintus passes out before Garnet can ask any more questions.

The Next Day:

Quintus is removing all the furniture from the house as the dispossession order has come through. A car draws up outside the gate and he is stunned to see the Widow Georgina Rance step out. She greets him by name and asks to see Garnet. Once inside she tells Garnet that she loves Daventry, that she wants to marry him but he refuses to leave Garnet. She wants Garnet to give them his blessing, wants him to release Daventry from his obligation towards him. After a moment, Garnet gives his blessing.

Georgina: Bless you, Garnet.

That night:

Garnet has gone back to the dance hall, alone once more. He lights some candles and puts on some music and starts to dance. Outside a storm is brewing. The door opens and Daventry comes in looking flustered as if he has been running. He walks across to Garnet, eyes glittering dangerously. He steps onto some broken glass, sees it and picks up a long, sharp shard. He moves to Garnet swiftly and grabs him, pressing the shard against Garnet's throat, all the while telling Garnet that he will never let them hurt him, would never let them dispossess him, and would always protect him. He is holding Garnet close and starts to dance with him.

Daventry: Never leave you 'cause we're one. One soul, two tormented halves.

The storm hits, the wind crashing through the door and Daventry is pulled from Garnet by its force. Garnet cries out Daventry's name and follows, stumbling through the fury of the storm. He falls and when he awakens the storm has passed and it is morning. He goes to Georgina's home looking for Daventry and finds Georgina sitting in shock on her first floor verandah.

Georgina: He's gone, Garnet. Our Daventry is gone.

She describes how she went searching for him after the storm and saw him standing very still against a tree. She thought he was waiting for her with his arms held wide until she realised that he was embedded in the tree, and quite dead.

Georgina shows him to her bedroom where Daventry is laid out on the bed. She leaves Garnet alone with Daventry while she awaits the undertaker who has already been called. Garnet asks for pennies to place over Daventry's eyes.

Photo 0: Garnet Montrose


Garnet arrives home to find many of his belongings destroyed by the storm.

Quintus: Garnet? You all right? Where you been?

Quintus explains that the land taxes have been paid by the Veterans Association and so he is no longer dispossessed. He tells Garnet that he tried to get the furniture undercover before the storm hit but couldn't save it all.


It is daylight and Garnet is at the dance hall. The door opens and he calls out for Daventry but it is Georgina.

Garnet: So you knew about my secret place, just like him.

She asks Garnet if he has a record called 'Skylark' which was one of her favourites. When he says he does she asks him to play it.

The film ends with them dancing together, held in each other's arms.