Jim (Anthony Quayle) is a single father of a baby boy who really should be thinking of going straight, but he is persuaded by his current romantic partner Billy (Jayne Mansfield) to join her criminal gang which will be holding up a bank van if all goes to plan. He is reluctant, but she has a hold over him that is only bolstered by the strongarm tactics of gang member Kristy (Carl Möhner) who is especially keen to get his share of those ill-gotten gains. Billy insists on being the getaway driver, and into the night they go, five criminals who stop said truck and bash the driver and guards over the heads, then help themselves to the sacks of cash. For her own personal thrill, Billy waits till the police siren is heard before taking off, but Jim doesn't know what trouble he will be in now...
When she found the work in Hollywood drying up alarmingly quickly in the early nineteen-sixties, after her first flush of success in the previous decade, Jayne Mansfield took to globetrotting to pick up acting roles. She hardly needed to, as she was cultivating a nightclub show that was making her a small fortune, but every opportunity to keep her profile in the public eye was never one to waste, and she started to take roles in European movies, including British ones like The Challenge. Here she started the movie with a different look: instead of platinum blonde she was raven-haired, and the part called for more of a dramatic reading than her dumb blonde persona that had made her name across the world.
Her fans will always tell you she had genuine talent and if she had been offered the right roles she would have happily proved that, something those fluff comedies she was most celebrated for would not have demonstrated, but every so often she secured a serious movie to appear in and she did not embarrass herself here by any means, serving as the romantic lead with a twist of criminality, more or less the femme fatale in a late period Brit noir, somewhat past the prime of such efforts but marking a transition into the more socially aware thrillers that would show up as the sixties progressed. Quayle was the stooge who has a shot at redemption once he is put behind bars for the robbery, but first has to get through a true trial of his character.
For some reason, of the two gang leaders the woman had a man's name (at least with a man's spelling) and the man had a woman's name, as Kristy takes over the operation while Jim is in jail, leaving Billy to run a nightclub (which has a stripper who we almost, but not quite, see taking all her clothes off). It had to be said, though there were some nice, moody images and well-chosen locations, nothing in the body of the movie could beat the great title sequence which presented a mixture of shots of London's neon-lit West End with stylised shots of a big band playing the jazzy theme. If the whole film had been made that way it might have been more memorable, but as it was it worked up a perfectly fair set of thriller tropes that would come to be better employed in the television series of the day.
Or indeed the B-movies, but the presence of actual, proper Hollywood star Mansfield and actual Shakespearean thespian Quayle lifted it to a more prominent position than it might have had otherwise, or even be justified in containing. Once Jayne's hair turns blonde, it's five years later and Jim has been released from prison to see his son again (distractingly dubbed by a woman's impersonation of an child, as was the practice in British films of the day, qv Village of the Damned for the most obvious example). However, there's the not so small matter of what he did with the loot back then, as he was the one who buried it in the countryside without telling the others its whereabouts. The violent Kristy has the boy kidnapped, under the eye of the creepy Buddy (Peter Reynolds) who ultimately tries to coax the boy to play on the railway tracks - can Jim rescue the boy as the cops close in? With some surprisingly brutal parts - Jim's mother (Barbara Mullen) is viciously beaten up at one point - The Challenge was suspenseful enough not to be a waste of time, file it under "not bad at all". Music by Bill McGuffie.