When director Robert Altman made his debut on Broadway with "Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean," most critics were not kind toward the "Nashville" director's entry into theater, or toward his three leading ladies: Sandy Dennis, Karen Black and Cher. But Altman has now turned around, restaged the play for movie cameras and shocked nearly everyone who's seen it with how well the play works as a movie. Scheduled to be distributed through a small, independent company rather than any of the major studios that bid on it, the movie cost Altman a paltry $800,000 and took only 19 days to make, a mere fraction of the money and time he spent on such recent flops as "Quintet" and "A Wedding." (Don't call this a low-budget film, though; Altman says he prefers the phrase "proper budget.") Word from those who have seen "Jimmy Dean" is that the transition to film nullifies two of the play's biggest problems: confusing jumps between past and present that made the first act hard to follow, and a huge, elaborate set that dwarfed the actors. As for those performers, "They're all great," says one early viewer. "Especially Cher. Now everybody in town's running around saying, 'I always knew Cher had it in her.' Well, I never knew she had it in her -- I always thought she was a dunce, but even I have to admit she's terrific."