October 18, 1976 12:00 PM

I wanted to do A Bridge Too Far,” Robert Redford explains solemnly, “because it gave me the chance to turn down Superman.” But why? “I don’t look good in a cape, and I don’t like to do my own flying.”

A possibly more compelling reason was to emerge after Redford had plunged into the horrors of celluloid combat in Joseph E. Levine’s $25 million version of the war in Europe. As Major Julian Cook, Redford portrays a heroic battalion commander of the 82nd Airborne. The movie was shot in Holland, where a bridge over the Waal River evoked the look of 1944 better than anything on the Rhine. Without benefit of stand-in or stuntman, America’s leading box office draw vigorously rowed his rubber boat with an M-1 stock (as GIs actually did back then), got soaked and muddy in the chilly Waal and generally took a bruising during his month on location.

Between takes, Redford uncoiled by tossing around a baseball or football on the Waal’s north bank with his makeup man, Gary Liddiard. A near-teetotaler and nonsmoker like his Mormon wife, Lola, Redford, 39, is an amateur athlete with pretty fair credentials. He was a halfback on his Van Nuys, Calif. high school team and attended the University of Colorado on a baseball scholarship. While shooting Bridge, Redford jogged three miles a day, chinned himself regularly and split a few sets with a local tennis pro.

The film, now in the can, is slated for release by United Artists in mid-1977. The cast includes such headliners as Dirk Bogarde, James Caan, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Elliott Gould, Gene Hackman, Laurence Olivier, Ryan O’Neal, Maximilian Schell and Liv Ullmann. Unsurprisingly, the cost in fees was $9 million. Two million of that went to Redford alone, his press agent confirms, but Levine figures Redford was more than worth it. In fact, the producer growls, in an unusual display of candor, “I’m cheatin’ him.”

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