Ann Hornaday Recommends

To recent generations, he was known for the persnickety fussbudget he played on TV. But Tony Randall, who died last week, was one of the all-time great supporting actors on the American screen, on a par with Edward Everett Horton and Donald O'Connor. He didn't hesitate to steal whatever scene he was in, but he always did it with class and politesse. Every once in a while, he broke away from being second banana to lead the whole bunch. Herewith, a trio of Randall pictures worth renting. Raise a dry martini while you watch and, in deference to his most enduring persona, don't forget the clean linen cocktail napkin:

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957, 93 minutes) starred Randall as the title character, a put-upon advertising executive who persuades a starlet (Jayne Mansfield) to endorse one of his products in exchange for his pretending to be her lover. This surprisingly still-funny satire, written and directed by Frank Tashlin, features Randall in a rare leading role, proving that as gracefully as he supported bigger stars, he was fully capable of carrying a movie on his own.

Pillow Talk (1959, 103 minutes) was the ultimate Randall picture, one that starred Rock Hudson and Doris Day and featured Randall in a career-defining performance as the sardonically funny sidekick. Day plays an interior decorator engaged to Randall's millionaire theater producer; Hudson portrays a songwriter who shares a party line with Day's character and is being backed by the rich fiance. The frothy roundelay that ensues defines 1950s romantic comedy, thanks in large part to Randall's impeccable timing and mordant portrait of sad-eyed resignation.

Down With Love (2003, 101 minutes) received middling reviews when it came out last year, but this contemporary parody of Day-Hudson comedies features Randall in his last movie role -- not as the sidekick, but still memorable. Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor star as the sparring couple, and David Hyde Pierce assumes Randall's mantle as the fussy best friend, a setup that, as The Post's Stephen Hunter wrote at the time, meant Randall was actually "in the Dean Jagger role." Worth catching, if only to come full circle in Randallania. (Rated PG-13 for sexual humor and dialogue.)

Renee Zellweger, Tony Randall, Sarah Paulson in "Down With Love."