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Typically, a composer is the last person hired on a movie. He sees the rough cut and adds notes. But Leone had Morricone do his work first, then composed images to fit the music. That's one reason their Once Upon a Time in the West is an ideal meld of sight and sound. With a strong theme for each major actor (harmonica for Charles Bronson, clip-clopping whimsy for Jason Robards, a sweet symphony for Claudia Cardinale), the film is less horse opera than grand opera. It justifies the claim director Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso, Malèna) has made for Morricone: "He's not just a great film composer. He's a great composer."
Morricone's best work is ecstatic, transporting; it elevates the movie and the moviegoer. Surely that's worth an Oscar.