Savchenko and Szolkowy have been in red-hot form this season and retained their pairs title at the Grand Prix Final, although injury prevented them from doing so at the Europeans in January.
Savchenko aggravated a left thigh problem and was forced to pull out but it appears to have healed after the German duo posted the best score of the short program in Nice.
The reigning world champions were awarded 68.63 points for their routine, giving them a slender advantage over Chinese pairing Qing Pang and Jian Tong who scored 67.10 for second place.
A trio of Russian challengers stole the show from the German world champions - for all the wrong reasons.
Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov kicked off a domino effect of bizarre falls suffered by the Russians, who instead of being medal contenders were left red-faced as they tried to work out how things had gone so wrong.
European champion Maxim Trankov, who appeared to be heading to the top of the leaderboard with Tatiana Volosozhar before ending up flat on his back on the ice after losing his footing on the death spiral, summed it up best.
"It's not a good day for the Russians. I don't know what's happened. All the couples had stupid mistakes," Trankov, the 2011 world silver medallist, told Reuters after finishing eighth with 60.48 points, more than eight points behind the Germans.
"If I fell from the jump, it's okay as everybody can fall from a jump. But the death spiral is so easy," he added referring to the move in which the male holds his partner's outstretched hand while she circles him with her body almost parallel to the ice.
"I was very confused how this could have happened in front of the world. I went into shock. How can someone fall from this? If it hadn't happened to me, it would have been so funny."
Japan’s Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran are placed third a little further back with 65.37 with 16 now pairs next taking to the ice in France for the free skate on Friday.
However seven-times British champions Kemp and King won’t be one of them as they could only place 19th after scoring 39.33 – over eight points shy of progressing.
Kemp and King looked good in the preliminary round but their 19th-place finish is their lowest in seven appearances at the World Championships – their best a 13th in 2009.