The world-renowned Princess Ann, a member of the royal family of a small unnamed European kingdom, is on a whirlwind tour of Europe. After visiting London, Paris, and Amsterdam, she arrives in Rome, the Eternal City. Bored and upset with a life where her every waking minute is scheduled and rehearsed, she throws a tantrum and has to be sedated. However, before the drugs take effect, she manages to escape the embassy, determined to spend at least one day doing whatever she wants.
As the sedatives finally take effect, the weary princess collapses on a park bench, where she meets Intrepid Reporter Joe Bradley. Believing her to be drunk, he offers to have a taxi take her back to her home, but she refuses; finally, he caves in and allows her to sleep it off at his place (and no, they don't have sex).
The next morning, Bradley wakes up late, having overslept and missed a scheduled interview with the princess. He tries to report in to his editor anyway, but he gets caught in the lie when he finds out that the princess "called in sick" at 3 o'clock that morning. After seeing a picture of Princess Ann in the paper, Bradley manages to put two and two together and sets out to get the scoop of a lifetime...
Notable moments include the original romantic Vespa ride through Rome, the scene at the Mouth of Truth, and a dance-turned-brawl where Ann clubs a man over the head with a guitar.
The movie earned 10 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. It ended up winning Best Costume Design and Best Writing.note Even more notable, Audrey Hepburn won Best Actress.
This film provides examples of:
- Agony of the Feet: Ann's fancy shoes are not comfortable to stand in for long, leading to some trouble at a reception.
- All Women Love Shoes: The first thing Ann does when hitting the street of Rome is buying new shoes, replacing the uncomfortable ones she had at the reception.
- Balcony Escape: Ann sneaks out of her room through the balcony.
- Bar Brawl: The contagious fight scene at the river boat.
- Berate and Switch: Ann about Joe when she thinks she is talking to her doctor in the morning:"He was tall and strong...and he was so mean to me. Beat It was wonderful.
- The Bet: Joe and his boss have one for $500. In some kind of Heroic Sacrifice Joe forfeits the big story and loses the bet.
- Billed Above the Title: Invoked by Gregory Peck. After filming, Peck informed the producers that Audrey Hepburn was certainly going to win an Oscar (for this, her first major role), so they had better put her name above the title. They did and she did.
- Blatant Lies: Whenever Irving is about to do something stupid, Joe distracts him by spilling his drinks on him or knocking him to the ground before accusing him of being really clumsy and rude.
- Central Theme: Deception. Filmsite.org tallied 17 pointed deceptions in the film, culminating in the final one during the Dénouement.
- The Chains of Commanding: What Princess Ann is trying to escape from—and, ultimately, the reason she decides to return.
- Clock King: Princess Ann's handlers. It's enough to make her want to run away in the middle of the night.
- Contrived Clumsiness: Joe is giving Irving a hard time for being Oblivious to Hints. And he doesn't even try to disguise it.
- City with No Name: Country With No Name, in this case. Ann's homeland is never given a name, though it seems to be of a Ruritania type.
- Deliberately Monochrome: William Wyler filmed the movie in black and white because he feared that if he filmed it in color, the viewers would spend too much time admiring the Roman landmarks to focus on the story.
- Did Not Get the Girl: The class difference would have prevented either from carrying their relationship further, and both characters acknowledge it.
- Gilded Cage: Ann gets so fed up with the demands and restrictions of royalty that she runs away and lives as a commoner for a day so she can experience "freedom."
- Hand in the Hole: The aforementioned "Mouth of Truth" scene.
- Hope Spot: After Ann has left him, Joe is glooming about it in his apartment when suddenly there is a knock on the door. Unfortunately, it's only his boss.
- Important Haircut: Ann gets one to help her remain unrecognizable and because the style looks cool.
- The Ingenue: Princess Ann, short of one jarringly out-of-place smoking scene, is the absolute epitome of adorable innocence.
- Intoxication Ensues: Ann's whole adventure begins because she was drugged by her doctor to cure her feelings of anxiety. All this did was make her flighty and rebellious before crashing on the streets.
- Intrepid Reporter: Joe Bradley. He borrows money and makes investments he couldn't return, and gets into fights with members of the secret service to get his story, though the latter could be explained by his growing feelings for Ann.
- Jump Scare: The Mouth of Truth. Mixed with Joe being a Troll.
- King Incognito: Ann disguises herself as a commoner to avoid detection and retrieval.
- Line-of-Sight Name: Joe claims he's a salesman, and Ann asks what he sells. Joe hesitates, we hear a horse whinny, and Joe declares that he sells "fertilizer."
- Manly Tears: Joe's eyes well up quite a bit during the press conference.
- Mr. Smith: Ann uses the alias "Anya Smith."
- No Name Given: Ann's home country is always referred to as "her country."
- Oblivious Guilt Slinging: Ann thanks Joe for so unselfishly indulging her all day.
- Oblivious to Hints: Irving doesn't seem to get Joe's subliminal messages, which makes him become Joe's Butt-Monkey.
- Oh, Crap!: The look on Princess Ann's face when she realizes that Irving's cigarette lighter is also a camera.
- Pimped-Out Dress / Simple, yet Opulent: Ann's grand dresses are appropriately fancy and elegant.
- Pull the Thread: When Joe claims to have just returned from interviewing the princess, having actually overslept and missed the interview, his boss questions him on what she said and what she wore. Finally the boss reveals that he's known all along Joe didn't make the interview, because all the princess's engagements for the day have been cancelled.
- Reality Ensues: The ending notes that a romance is impossible between the two leads.
- Refuge in Audacity: Joe pulls this trick twice on his boss. First, he offers to show him his notes on the interview (he didn't do) and then again at the end when the boss wants to see the photos.
- Sexy Soaked Shirt: Well, not specifically the shirt, but Joe after he's soaked from the river—PHWOAR.
- Spiritual Successor: Roman Holiday is this to It Happened One Night.
- Spy Cam: The camera hidden in Irving's cigarette lighter.
- Stepford Smiler: What Ann is during most of her public appearances. It makes her genuine smiles towards Joe all the more poignant.
- Subtext: On the surface, the statements uttered by Joe and Ann at the press conference are nothing more than platitudes. But the subtextual conversation conveys that a) Joe won't reveal what really happened during their day together and b) there is a genuine shared love that will be cherished between the two forever.
- Tall, Dark, and Handsome: It's Gregory Peck when he's at his prime.
- Tearful Smile: The default expressions of both Joe and Ann during the press conference.
- Technically a Smile: Right after the exchange, Ann seems to begin to have a negative emotion, but forces a smile on her face as she leaves.
- There Is Only One Bed: Played with. There is only one bed in Joe's apartment but there is also a louncher. Joe pushes Ann onto the louncher and sleeps on his bed. The next day, once he realizes who he is dealing with, he moves Ann into the bed.
- This Is My Name on Foreign: Ann when Joe asks her name: "You may call me... Anya."
- Undressing the Unconscious: Played With. Princess Ann gets drunk one night and ends up in Joe's apartment where she jumps into Joe's pajamas before falling asleep. Of course, the next morning she doesn't have any recollections of that and reacts with shock to the fact that she is now wearing a man's pajamas and not knowing how she got into them. She quickly reaches under her blanket to check if her undies are still there and is relieved when they are. All of this is played quite subtly due to the production code of the time.
- What Did I Do Last Night?: Ann doesn't have any recollection of her drunken night and fears she has done lewd things with Joe. He assures her that nothing happened.
- Zip Me Up: In her drunken state, Ann asks Joe to help her undress. He removes her scarf but leaves the rest to her.