Michael premiered in Germany on 26 September 1924 and was enthusiastically received: "Eine meisterhafte Filmleistung im Bildchen und in der Darstellung" (Nachtausgabe). "Bei der Premiere klatschte das Publikum nach jedem Akt begeistert Beifall […] Wie wunderfein ist es gelungen, Seelisches rein bildmässig (und ohne Vergrösserung) auszudrücken" (Berliner Börsen Zeitung). "Was hier geschaffen ist, bedeutet eine Kulturtat ersten Ranges" (Lichtbildbühne).
The film opened in Denmark about two months later, on 17 November, and likewise elicited positive reviews, although more space was devoted to the relationship between the book and the film and certain grievances had to be aired. The critic for Land og By begins by praising the film, calling it "one of the most beautiful films ever seen." Then follows an extended account of what’s wrong with the adaptation, e.g., it is "utterly disorienting" that the Master, Claude Zoret, is played without a beard! In conclusion, the film is warmly recommended, "It is wonderful and grand. It is delightful and unusual. It should be a real draw."
Aftenbladet takes almost the opposite position, "Surprising, astonishing to the point of dumbness, it thus was to see how the assignment [book to film] had been solved to perfection." However, the reviewer does not think the film is worth anything to the audience, "It possesses none of the qualities that affect the masses. It will therefore have only a short life." Every one, including the German critics, praises Benjamin Christensen’s performance to the skies.
The film premiered in America on 16 December 1926. Entitled Chained, it was met with massive criticism: "Situations are neglected, possibilities over-looked, direction botched and generally mismanaged. It’s another one of those foreign pictures and may be taken as a typical reason why German producers cannot sell here to any extent as long as they work in this manner." The review ends with the following broadside, "Junk of this kind has no place here even in art theatres that seem to stand for anything if it’s cheap enough" (Variety).
By Lisbeth Richter Larsen | 03. June