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Candyman: The David Klein Story


Candyman: The David Klein Story

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In 1976, David Klein approached The Herman Goelitz Candy Company, asking them to manufacture his revolutionary new product: a gourmet jellybean he’d dubbed “Jelly Belly.” The concept was slow to take off, but Klein was a tireless hustler. He started out slinging his beans in an Alhambra, California ice-cream parlor, then beat the drum for Jelly Belly in newspaper profiles and on talk shows, often while wearing a tight T-shirt over his ample frame and doing a funky dance. Once word got out about the candy’s unusual flavors and high quality, orders came pouring in so fast that at one point, the factory was a full year behind on production. So Klein made some concessions, both to help the business and to help the friends who got him started. And before he fully understood what was happening, Klein had signed over the rights to Jelly Belly for a fraction of its value. The Jelly Belly website today doesn’t even mention Klein’s name; he’s referred to only as “a Los Angeles candy distributor.”

Klein’s blunder is at the core of Costa Botes’ documentary Candyman: The David Klein Story, though that isn’t all the movie is about. More like a testimonial dinner than a piece of investigative journalism, Candyman trots out one interview subject after another to talk about what a swell guy Klein is, but when it comes to what actually happened to Jelly Belly, the documentary becomes a tangle of anecdotes, with some key figures on the other side of the negotiations unheard from—presumably because they declined to comment, although a caption to confirm that would’ve been nice. Not only is the Jelly Belly fumble not clearly explained, but Candyman also wastes time with a tour of the Ronald Reagan Library (because Reagan’s love of jellybeans helped propel the product in the early ’80s) and a chat with “Weird” Al Yankovic, who has nothing to do with Jelly Belly beyond being a fan.

But the subtitle of this movie is The David Klein Story, not The Jelly Belly Story, and as Candyman shows, there’s more to Klein than the company he let slip through his fingers. In the decades since parting ways with Jelly Belly, Klein has spent his settlement money—a couple of paltry millions, after fees and taxes—developing other novelty candies that haven’t been anywhere near as popular. He’s also helped young entrepreneurs fulfill their dreams, making sure they realize that they “only need to be a genius for 15 seconds,” and after that, they need a good lawyer. Klein’s circumstances are simultaneously tragic and not-so-bad. He gets by, he stays busy, and he’s well-liked. His biggest regret seems to be that he doesn’t get to go on TV wearing that Jelly Belly T-shirt any more, as the happy face of a company he founded.

Key features: Deleted scenes, and two commentaries: a tech-heavy one from Botes and one from Klein and his son Bert (an accomplished animator who produced the movie) that’s warmly reminiscent and at times more informative than the movie itself.