Maria (DeHavilland) is a princess whose uncle (Coburn) wants her to marry and produce heirs for their Ruritania country; however, there arent many royals that interest Maria, so her uncle decides to send her off to San Francisco to think her options over. Because Maria fears flying, shes takes sleeping pills during her flight, but theyre so ineffective that she ends up taking five of them and still feels no effect.
After six pills, she cant wake up even when her flight has been grounded due to fog. Consequently, she must stay overnight with the planes co-pilot, Eddie ORourke (Cummings), who has no idea where she lives or that she's a princess, and has to ask for the help of his friends Dave (Jack Carson) and Jean Campbell (Jane Wyman). Maria comes to and decides to take up Eddie's proposition to spend the day with him. Meanwhile, her uncle's secret service man spies on them as they both slowly falls in love. But Maria knows they cant marry because of her royal blood. Fortunately, her uncle thinks that it can be a good PR move to marry a normal American.
But Eddie doesnt want to be so wholly controlled by tradition and the obligations of the crown, especially since Maria is under the thumb of her uncle.
The film shows the following tropes:
- Arranged Marriage: Marias uncle wants to marry her off, but shes not interested in any of the royals he offers.
- Bathtub Scene: Maria ponders the Running Gag in this gratuitous scene.
- The Chains of Commanding: Being a princess is hard! Theres obligations!
- Fourth Date Marriage: Maria and Eddie fall in love in one day, and he makes up his mind to marry her right after.
- Gilded Cage: Not only does Maria know shes trapped under the rule of her uncle, but she even has a pet bird to reflect her own entrapment.
- Henpecked Husband: How Eddies life will be if he accepts to be Marias Prince Consort.
- Invisible President: FDR appears in a couple of scenes—the climax of the film takes place at the White House, where Maria is a guest—but his face is never seen. Also a case of History Marches On as he is seen standing in the hallway as Maria is making her escape; FDR's paralysis was not widely known amongst the general public at that time.
- Marry for Love: This is what Maria wants desperately.
- Meet Cute: Eddie basically carries Maria around New York City since shes completely out of it.
- No Name Given: The country where Maria belongs to.
- Prince Charmless: The one suitor who invites Maria for some horseback riding. He has a weird twitch!
- Rich Boredom: Maria is bored by everything around her and would prefer to sit and read, much to her uncles annoyance.
- Running Gag: Maria wondering how Eddie knows about her strangely placed birthmark.
- Suddenly Suitable Suitor: Marias uncle eventually warms up to the idea of Maria marrying Eddie to spice up the royal blood and because he was the one out of 9 brothers and his father was one out of eleven brothers. He really wants Maria to produce male heirs for the crown.
- Slipping a Mickey: A surprisingly innocent version: Maria has taken several sleeping pills to no effect during her flight to San Francisco, so Eddie takes her to a café for some coffee. The owner thinks that she cant go to sleep, so he puts two sleeping pills in her coffee without telling them about it. Maria then passes out.
- Undressing the Unconscious: After Maria can't be awakened due to all the sleeping pills she took, Eddie takes care of her and brings him back to his apartment. When she wakes up the next morning, she is now wearing his pajamas.
- War Is Glorious: Eddie wants to be in WWII. He imagines the great embarrassment of telling his future children that he was at a Flower show rather than the biggest war of his lifetime.