A Player Once Again: ROBERT ALTMAN

With a new movie as witty and thrilling as M*A*S*H and Nashville, director Robert Altman makes a provocative comeback

EVERYBODY HAS HIS PROFESSIONAL UPS and downs, and the ups and downs in show business tend to be extreme. But even by the standards of the movie industry, Robert Altman's ups and downs have been both numerous and extravagant. After making his first feature at 30, Altman slid back into yeoman Hollywood anonymity for a decade, directing episodic TV. Then in 1970 there was M *A *S *H, a commercial blockbuster and generational lodestar. Within a year came the dense, dreamy, elegiac western McCabe and Mrs. Miller, then other sly, quirky dramas (The Long Goodbye, Thieves Like Us, California Split) at...