Cerebral 'Stunt Man finally fights its way onto the screen . Jfy Peter Rose Republic Staff. Forget the title, The Stunt Man, said Chuck Bail. This not a movie about stunts. Bail is a stunt man himself and an assistant director who plays himself in "the film. If it is not about stunts, it sure has a lot of action up on that mansard roof at Coronado Island, San Diego: Bodies rolling, jumping, tumbling, Spinning, falling, sliding down the long "and curved roof surfaces precariously high. Bodies hanging from the edges, actually crashing through the roof into an, orgy below. a-"It's a-"It's a-"It's not like Hooper," said Bail. "It's multilayered, switching back and forth between reality and illusion. In most aotion movies, you've got wham-bang, wham-bang, wham-bang, oars going off bridges, planes crashing, 'that's it." "It's about a man trying to control his own destiny and his paranoia in trying to control his own destiny," explained Steve Railsback, the youthful 32-year-old 32-year-old 32-year-old 32-year-old 32-year-old actor sharing top billing with Peter O'Toole and Barbara Hershey in the film that apens in Phoenix Friday. Bail rode saddle broncs until he got stranded on the rodeo circuit in the late 1950s in Bangkok, Thailand, and went into Westerns to survive. He trained Railsback for six weeks before filming. Trampoline work, somersaults, confidence confidence builders so if he slipped and fell on that long, sloping mansard roof, he could catch a drain pipe and not panic. Railsback did all but two of his own stunts in the movie. But in truth, as he and Bail insisted over a Biltmore spread of quiche, oyster stew and roast beef enhanced by a pastry wagon with wings, the film has as much mental action as physical action. In its sensual deception and trickery, it reminds one of The Magus, the book by John Fowles. It is a film for all its physical and mental stunts that nearly missed the screen. And that's despite names like Peter OToole, the distinguished English actor who plays a diabolical director, forever hovering on an ingenious crane built especially for this performance (and since duplicated elsewhere) and despite its commercially successful producer director, Richard Rush, who is said to have brought in $60 million on both Getting Straight and Freebie and the Bean. The film was shot in 1978. Its visual scope and dare make it look like $15 million worth of celluloid, although it was made for $6 million a cheapie. It was ready for distribution a year ago. Nobody called. "We knew what we had," said Rails-back. Rails-back. Rails-back. "No one who worked on the film ever doubted it was good. Unfortunately, it wasn't seen. We were so positive we had something, but it was hidden. It caused a kind of paranoia, just like in the movie. I had to ask myself, 'Is that me: "They said it was too sophisticated," Bail said. "Only people in New York and Los Angeles would be able to understand it. "Ever hear of Citizen Kane! No one wanted it. Star Wars was seen only because Alan Ladd Jr. decided to take a chance with it. One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest no one wanted to see a film about nuts. The Black Stallion no one wanted to see a film about horses. American Graffiti sat on a shelf for six months. "We're in very good company." Their report continued: The film has been playing in Seattle for five months; six weeks ago at the Montreal Film Festival, it became the first American movie ever to win first prize; shown in Los Angeles, it outgrossed The Empire Strikes Back. Finally, 20th Century-Fox Century-Fox Century-Fox picked it up for national distribution. In addition to Railsback and Bail, Ms. Hershey, who has the leading female role; director Rush; and Allen Goorwitz, who portrays a screenwriter, are beating promotional drums through the country. "We're not getting paid for it," noted Bail. "Remember, we're outraged." "I have an agent calling me every day," said Railsback. "He doesn't like me out on the road. I'm not making him any money." r Mb I iv'lt ?t2!l- ?t2!l- Steve Railsback, left, and Chuck Bail in The Stunt Man.