The Saint Leads the Dance (1960)

AKA: Dance of Death
Country: France / Italy
Director: Jacques Nahum
Starring: Felix Marten, Jean Desailly, Michele Mercier, Francoise Brion, Nicole Mirel
Music: Paul Durand
Based on an idea by Leslie Charteris

I am guessing that Paramount did not have the rights to The Saint character in the United States, and when they released this French import (as Dance of Death), all the Saintly accoutrements had to be removed. Even the character’s name is no longer Simon Templar, but Stuart Thomson – and he is no longer a criminal. Instead he is a ‘world famous private detective’. These changes, as small as they may seem, change the whole tone of the film.

As the film begins, on the streets of Boston, the police are chasing notorious gangster ‘Smokey Johnny’. Trying to evade capture he rushes up to the nearest car on the curb and tries to force his way in. The car happens to belong to millionaire Freddy Pellman (Jean Desailly), who is forced back inside. As the police open fire on ‘Smokey’, during the distraction, Pellman produces a golf club and strikes the gangster who is then forced back onto the streets, making him an easier target for the police to pick off. ‘Smokey’ is shot down, and Pellman is applauded for being a hero.
One year later, now living in Paris, Pellman receives a death threat in the mail. Associates of ‘Smokey Johnny’ have tracked him down and want revenge. Pellman refuses to go to the police, and instead hires the services of Stuart Thomson (Felix Marten) – ‘the world famous private detective’. Thomson doesn’t come cheap though, but Pellman is loaded and agrees to Thomson’s exorbitant fee.
The men head back to Pellman’s estate, which is huge –- after all he is a millionaire. There, Thomson is introduced to a coterie of suspicious characters – the chauffeur, the butler, and the cook all have mysterious pasts. Added to this, it appears that Pellman is a bit of a womaniser and has three personal secretaries working for him, Gina (Nicole Mirel), Danny (Michel Mercier), and Nora (Francoise Brion). As you can imagine, any film scenario that sets up three beautiful women working for the same boss, there is going to be some ‘catty’ conflict, and this film doesn’t let you down on that score. The antagonism goes up a notch once Thomson enters the scene.
On Thomson’s first night on the job, Pellman takes his girls, and Thomson tagging along for protection, to a swank nightclub. Here, some associates of the late ‘Smokey Johnny’ attack Pellman, luckily Thomson steps in and gives the goons a good thrashing.

Later that night, back at the estate, someone breaks in, and makes another attempt on Pellman’s life, only they went to the wrong room, and the knife meant for Pellman ended up embedded in the wooden bedhead where Gina was sleeping. With Pellman’s estate, so well guarded and Thomson on the job, it now seems like there is an insider working with Smokey’s associates, and it is now up to Thomson to work out who?

This review is actually based on the US Dance of Death version of the film, and as such, with the film altering of the Saint-like character to be a detective, I’d be very curious to see the French original, where I am sure the Saint’s motivation would be rather different. Still, Dance of Death is a passable time killer with enough twists and turns (and red herrings) to satisfy most mystery fans.
Thanks to Tanner at the Double-O-Section for help with this review.

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